Sail Date: May 2014
From the minute we met the Viking staff at our hotel in Bucharest, to the checkout from our hotel in Budapest, every minute was first class. The staff: Friendly, courteous, helpful and always made you feel they put you first. Hotels: ... Read More
From the minute we met the Viking staff at our hotel in Bucharest, to the checkout from our hotel in Budapest, every minute was first class. The staff: Friendly, courteous, helpful and always made you feel they put you first. Hotels: First class hotels on both ends. Viking Rinda: Wow! what a beautiful ship. Everything was clean, sparkling, and the service was terrific. The meals were wonderful. We loved cruising down the Danube river. The tours were enjoyable and informative. Some of the tour guides spoke better english than others, but they all did a very good job. We really liked how everything was all inclusive, with few exceptions. Definitely would go on another Viking cruise. Read Less
Sail Date: May 2014
We took our first river cruise with Viking based, for the most part, on reviews and recommendations. This turned out to be an excellent decision. The ship was bright, light, spotless and comfortable. We were concerned about the stateroom ... Read More
We took our first river cruise with Viking based, for the most part, on reviews and recommendations. This turned out to be an excellent decision. The ship was bright, light, spotless and comfortable. We were concerned about the stateroom size, as it was quite a bit smaller than what we found on larger ships, but the thought that went into the design of each stateroom provided outstanding storage and the best use of space possible. Meals in the dining room were quite good with many choices of well prepared meals, all served by excellent servers who learned our likes after the first day and always had a large iced tea at our table. We found all the staff we met to be helpful, pleasant and willing to go out of their way to make our trip the best it could be. The land tours were led by knowledgeable and involved personnel. Although we sometimes felt too much time was spent on buses, the groups themselves were not overly large and this allowed for time to ask questions. We loved this trip down the Danube. Minor problem....the world's flattest and uncomfortable pillows. We believe Viking would best meet cruiser's need with a pillow choice that included higher, foam pillows. A larger problem was the fact that our veranda was covered by water the whole trip-thus it was unusable. Staff came daily to "mop up" the area, it the water kept returning. Even engineering could not repair the issue. The Hotel Manager, Oliver Ulz, kept trying to resolve the problem but when he could not, he emailed Viking Customer Relations to explain the problem and our wish for monetary reimbursement for the unusable veranda. When we returned home we contacted Customer Relations and explained the unfixed problem. We also asked to a reimbursement equal to the difference in cost between a Veranda Room and a room with a French Balcony (which, in fact, was all we had as the veranda was unusable). We were pleased and impressed with their quick agreement to refund to us the difference between the two kinds of rooms. This is class act in all ways and a company we are pleased to recommend.   Read Less
4 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: May 2014
I recently returned from the Viking River Cruise, “Passage to Eastern Europe.” The cruise was generally good, with very good service, better food than we expected, and excellent tour guides. The destinations were often not particularly ... Read More
I recently returned from the Viking River Cruise, “Passage to Eastern Europe.” The cruise was generally good, with very good service, better food than we expected, and excellent tour guides. The destinations were often not particularly great, but we knew that before booking. Unfortunately the few problems we encountered were upsetting enough that, in the future, I am likely to try the competition and very unlikely to return to Viking. First and foremost is their poorly thought out policy of not allowing shipboard credit to be used towards gratuities, as every other cruise line we’ve been on allows. That meant we would have to take an optional excursion, which were few, far between, and of no interest to us. We could also use it towards drinks, but we are not big drinkers and the wine and beer served at lunch and dinner were more than sufficient. Our final option was to buy limited, overpriced, and mostly unneeded items from the small gift shop. Their “suggested” gratuities are higher than other cruise lines we’ve been on, and I have never before been asked to tip the Program Director. I firmly believe that at his level, I should not be asked to pay part of his salary. The cabin is, to say the least, small. Dinner (and, to a lesser extent, lunch) was only one seating, and the noise level could make it difficult to have a conversation. Although both the suggested gratuities and the limited use of shipboard credit are mentioned, they are clearly not meant to be very obvious and visible. Although minor, this significantly customer unfriendly attitude is why I would prefer, in the future, not to deal with a company such as Viking.   Read Less
Sail Date: May 2014
Everything about this trip met or exceeded our expectations. The pre and post-cruise hotel accommodations were excellent. Our cabin, with exterior veranda provided exceptional views. Cabin was comfortable and was cleaned frequently. Food ... Read More
Everything about this trip met or exceeded our expectations. The pre and post-cruise hotel accommodations were excellent. Our cabin, with exterior veranda provided exceptional views. Cabin was comfortable and was cleaned frequently. Food exceeded our expectations and the availability of wine or wine with lunch and dinner was a perfect complement to the exceptional food choices. We chose to be seated with the same server for all meals as she remembered our choices and when asked, would make recommendations which were always on target. There were many choices for off-ship tours which one was free to take or not. Overall the experience was very very positive......and yes we are taking another Viking River Cruise in May '15. Read Less
Sail Date: May 2014
The Viking Rinda was a beautiful ship. We had sailed on Viking previously but not on their new longships. The new ships are truly much more luxurious. Really liked the top deck which permitted walking around the ship for exercise, a sun ... Read More
The Viking Rinda was a beautiful ship. We had sailed on Viking previously but not on their new longships. The new ships are truly much more luxurious. Really liked the top deck which permitted walking around the ship for exercise, a sun area and a covered area. It was also great for viewing as we went through the Iron Gate on the Danube and some locks. There was plenty of viewing room for all the passengers. The food was excellent and the alternate dining option for lunch and dinner was very nice. As we had good weather, we could sit out on deck and enjoy the lovely weather. The itinerary was excellent and the guides combined a lot of history with descriptions of the sites. They also had a lovely set of programs highlighting local music and dances. There was also a very informative lecture in Belgade on the area. Overall we were extremely pleased with the cruise and the staff who were attentive and gave us excellent ideas about things to do on our own time. Read Less
Sail Date: May 2014
Well, first we arrived in Bucharest at 0130 instead of 1730 night before due to 5 hour delay from Orlando and missed connection in Frankfurt. 0630 wake up. We got our stateroom, French balcony, so just a grate across sliding doors. ... Read More
Well, first we arrived in Bucharest at 0130 instead of 1730 night before due to 5 hour delay from Orlando and missed connection in Frankfurt. 0630 wake up. We got our stateroom, French balcony, so just a grate across sliding doors. Interesting to see the Balkans, hard to get their otherwise. Made many stops at small towns and saw how people lived, saw food demos and other displays. This part of cruise was excellent. What was not good was the food. Very small portions, ie. Surf and Turf was one small steak and one shrimp. Disembarked in Budapest to take another river cruise. Read Less
1 Helpful Vote
Sail Date: May 2014
Bucharest to Budapest was our second cruise. Eastern Europe and the Danube River featured lovely small towns with down to earth experiences on a farm as well as large cities with the museums and cathedrals. The Rinda is a lovely ship and ... Read More
Bucharest to Budapest was our second cruise. Eastern Europe and the Danube River featured lovely small towns with down to earth experiences on a farm as well as large cities with the museums and cathedrals. The Rinda is a lovely ship and all the personnel just tops. Food was fabulous. We enjoyed all the passengers: a very varied group. And the guides were extremely knowledgeable and able to answer all manner of questions. In March we will travel from Nuremburg to Budapest. Plan on travelling the entire Danube. For us it is the only way to travel. Read Less
2 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: April 2014
Having only ocean cruises to compare to, I hope this review is helpful to those is our situation who had not ever been on a river cruise before. 1. Dining: Absolutely expect to spend 2 or more hours eating dinner every night in the single ... Read More
Having only ocean cruises to compare to, I hope this review is helpful to those is our situation who had not ever been on a river cruise before. 1. Dining: Absolutely expect to spend 2 or more hours eating dinner every night in the single main dining room as a social occasion and with different guests, repeating your occupation, cruise status etc over and over during breakfast and lunch as well. At first it was fun to meet others but quickly we wished we had more options for private dining or room service or a table for 2 or 4. Our saviours were our travel companions who are delightful and 2 occasions of eating at the alternate bar location. BREAKFAST: nightmare of lack of direction every morning. Finally focused on grabbing a yogurt and beelining to a table and ordering from the menu. One unfortunate dining night where you foraged for food - a MESS. I basically didn't eat as the food was scattered all over the ship and there was NO traffic plan or people movement. Not pleasant at all and I don't know what the point was supposed to be. 2. Age: We were young for this group of travelers. All the limited activities, TV shows, movies, music etc were geared to an over 70's crowd and NOT to our taste. (50's and early 60's) and we felt we didn't have anything to do while in our cabin in the evening. 3. Internet was slow, but it was better than none. (large ocean cruises generally have EXPENSIVE SLOW service) 4. Drinks with dinner (wine and beer) were very nice and complimentary. 5. Maitre D was absolutely fabulous and accommodating if you have any kind of food allergy or special diet. 6. Excursions were very very good with excellent culture and history immersion. 7. Evening activities: not to our taste with the exception for an occasional folk dance demo which tended to be too long for my taste. 8. Cruise destination: Budapest to Bucharest. I found the trip fascinating but the views along the way, although lovely rural views, were not the stunning views that we would have seen from Amsterdam down to Budapest. I would have preferred the upper Danube, if I chose again, although I don't expect to ever get my husband on another river cruise. 9. We felt viking employees were not overly helpful with the elderly, particularly disembarking on steep ramps and boarding the buses. Many times other unrelated travelers were assisting them while the employees were chatting. 10. Do I regret doing this trip? - In a way, yes at this time. the trip cost us $11,000.00 with a ridiculously long (30 travel hours) time to get home. I recommend getting an air package that allows you to have input in the travel arrangements. 11. Was it easy? VERY ridiculously and gloriously easy with Viking REALLY orchestrating every detail. Very impressive!!! 12. Hidden costs? none. Hotels selected by Viking were very very nice. Read Less
Sail Date: March 2014
• Background information  My wife has been to Europe many times and was intrigued by the boats plying the beautiful rivers. I have never been to Europe and we wanted my first visit to include a lot of different places without a lot of ... Read More
• Background information  My wife has been to Europe many times and was intrigued by the boats plying the beautiful rivers. I have never been to Europe and we wanted my first visit to include a lot of different places without a lot of stress. We somehow got a Viking brochure and quickly agreed to book the Grand European Tour after I retired. We booked directly with Viking and were very impressed when the Viking representative suggested a less expensive cabin than we were first considering. As it turned out, everything he told us was quite correct. This was our first cruise of any kind and we were impressed with the materials Viking sent us before the trip. Our itinerary, guidebooks, luggage tags and name badges arrived in nice zippered cases. • Travel To Port of Embarkation We booked our flights through Viking. We were a little confused about how and when they would be ticketed but there turned out to be no problems. We flew directly from Houston to Amsterdam on United. We upgraded to Economy Plus on the United website after we were ticketed by Viking. It was not possible to upgrade from the Viking purchased tickets to Business or First Class. We assume that option would be available earlier in the booking process if desired. We had no problems locating the Viking representatives at the Amsterdam airport and were taken promptly to the Movenpick Hotel since we had signed up for the pre-cruise extension. That was a very good decision because it gave us a chance to adapt somewhat to the local time before the cruise. Our flight arrived on schedule early in the morning and we chose to stay up all day and enjoy Amsterdam. Our cruise was the first Viking Cruise of the season but Viking and the Moenpick were ready for us and seemed as excited as we were to get the cruise season started. The day we were to board the ship we took our bags to the lobby so Viking could take them to the boat later. We went on another walk through the city, had lunch, and then walked to the boat. We did not realize that lunch was available on the boat. This is a cruise review but I would be remiss if I did not say that the two-night pre-cruise extension in Amsterdam was well worth the time and money. • Hotel information The Movenpick Hotel is right on the water and not too far from where the Viking boats dock. The hotel is very modern, clean and friendly. Everyone spoke English. We could see the water from our room (724). We did need to use a plug adapter to charge our iPhones. By the way, we kept our iPhones in Airplane Mode and turned on WiFi. That worked fine for us. I had downloaded some maps and guide information to the phones before we left using the Afar and Stay apps. The Movenpick proved to be a great place to use as a base of operations for visiting Amsterdam. The Viking guide was excellent. Amsterdam is a great city—just watch out for the bicycles! • Ship information The Viking Rinda is one of their longships and is a marvel of engineering and high quality design. The Viking brochures and websites accurately reflect what we encountered. If anything, the ship was nicer than we expected. There is very little sense of movement on the ship. We felt like we were simply gliding along. The entire ship was clean and well maintained. There were public toilets on the top two decks. • Cabin The ship has three decks. The cabins on the lowest deck have windows just above the water level. Our room (215) was on the middle deck and had a veranda. We loved the room and kept the drapes open as much as possible so that we could enjoy the scenery as the boat glided through the water. Our cabin was extremely quiet and wonderfully clean. Housekeeping came twice a day and was excellent. Some of the new friends we made had rooms on the lowest deck. One of those couples said that they heard a lot of noises in their cabin. We noted that the people on the lowest level seemed to spend more time than we did in the public spaces. When going through the many locks, the boat did bump the sides now and again. These bumps were apparently louder and more noticeable on the lowest deck. The cabins do have some 110-volt American style electric outlets so charging gizmos was no problem. The WiFi signal in our room was weak. The laptop we had along would connect, but my iPhone rarely was able to get even one bar. The signal was strong in the public areas so this was not a big problem for us although a few people were grumbling about the WiFi. The TVs in the room did not have many channel options, but that was fine with us because we rarely turned the TV on. The TV screen did not go completely black when turned off. We did hear some people grumble about that too, but it was not a big deal to us after the crew explained that it is just the way it is. The bath was small (as we expected), but it was also very cleverly designed so we had no problems showering. We had plenty of room to put away our clothing and we stored our bags under the bed. Some fellow passengers complained that they did not have enough drawer space but it was unclear to us if they had less space than we did or if they had brought more stuff. We had made a concerted effort to pack light. We used the retractable clothesline in the shower to dry clothing. We also brought a few hooks on suction cups that we attached to the glass shower doors so that we would be able to hang up all of our clothing to dry. • Activities & Entertainment On board activities included several interesting lectures, an outstanding glass blowing demonstration, wheelhouse and kitchen tours, superb Austrian singers, and food & drink samplings. We also enjoyed walking around the track on the top of the boat. There is a small library and a couple of PCs. We did not use them, but they were usually in use. • Service The staff was simply superb. Since we were the first cruise of the season, the first couple of meals were served a little slowly, but we thought that was just fine as it gave us more time to talk with other couples. Everyone we met was interesting and friendly. • Port & shore excursions As Viking advertises, this cruise was a great way to visit many places without a lot of effort. Each day of the cruise we were in a different place with a very good local guide. Optional outings were also available at additional cost and there were plenty of opportunities to look around on our own. Each town, castle and cathedral is like a chapter in a great story. What I took away from the story is that we are very fortunate to be alive today. I certainly have a much more literal understanding of why my ancestors left Germany when they did. Most of the people are our boat participated in the tours offered at each stop. If the tour that day involved a lot of walking, Viking offered an easier option. Some people chose to stay on board. Of course there were some people who wanted to do more so they would go off on their own for a more rigorous walk—and more photo opportunities. Everyone it seems has a camera, a smart phone, a camcorder, and/or an iPad. Viking does a wonderful job of keeping track of everyone. The tours were always well organized. Bottled water was always available as we left the boat, as were big red Viking umbrellas. On every tour we used Quietvox receivers to hear the guide. This system is very clever and worked very well. The guide’s transmitter had a very good range so it was easy to hear what he or she said. We charged the receivers every night in our cabin. The earpiece was uncomfortable for me until a guide said to try it upside down—and that worked great! The lock operators went on strike while we were there but our Program Director, George, did a wonderful job arranging alternate ways to get in all of the activities. That meant more time on buses than planned, but it also added a bit of adventure—and the opportunity to see how well Viking handles the unexpected. • Dining The food was excellent. A full breakfast by menu or buffet was available in the dining room on the middle deck and a lighter breakfast was available in the lounge area where the view was better. Lunch was also available in both places. Dinner was in the main dining room and almost always was preceded by a briefing of the next day’s activities in the lounge. We thought the beer and wine offered at dinner was quite good, but some people signed up for the optional drink package. We did charge a few drinks to our room. • Children's clubs There are no children on Viking river cruises. • Disembarkation My wife and I picked up colds during the cruise. We kept going and were not real sick but after the 10th night we were both pretty tired. On one hand we were sad to see the 14th night coming, but we were also glad that we would soon be able to recover. Our return flight from Budapest was very, very early in the morning so we had to settle our bill the night before. For some reason, the crew did not start accepting payments until after dinner so there was a long line of people waiting to pay. We had a minor error on our bill that Viking corrected when we pointed it out, but that took time and the whole bill paying process was not as smooth as it probably could have been—and certainly not as well organized as every previous day had been. Hopefully Viking improved the checkout process as the season unfolded. The next morning Viking did a great job getting us to the airport. Being still asleep, we forgot to pick up the promised snack on the boat, but had a nice coffee and pastry at the airport. We flew from Budapest to Frankfort where we connected to our Houston flight. These flights were on Lufthansa who had been on some kind of a mini-strike the day before. Lufthansa did not offer economy seats with more legroom, but the food and service was a little better than on United. Houston is a great city in a great and friendly state, but we did not get that impression when we got off the plane. We did not have any particular problem but we walked past people who were apparently directing us but who made no sense and then we walked and walked and waited and walked and waited and suddenly we had our luggage and were at the curb where the great people from Fast Park took us to our big SUV. We were back in America. • Summary I am not sure how to adequately express how humbling it is to cruise calmly on rivers used for centuries by some of the greatest Saints, artists and reformers who ever lived, and also by some of the worst and most evil tyrants who ever lived. They are all reasons for America’s strength and existence. The cruise was everything Viking said it would be and much more.   Read Less
Sail Date: March 2014
Passage to Eastern Europe March 25 - April 8, 2014 "Ya Just Can't Keep a Good Man Down!" ***Greetings from Budapest, Hungary!*** That is correct! I am again on the travel road, on a Viking River Cruise, “Passage to ... Read More
Passage to Eastern Europe March 25 - April 8, 2014 "Ya Just Can't Keep a Good Man Down!" ***Greetings from Budapest, Hungary!*** That is correct! I am again on the travel road, on a Viking River Cruise, “Passage to Eastern Europe”, from Budapest, Hungary to Bucharest, Romania, with a side trip afterwards into Transylvania, Romania. We arrived yesterday evening about 5:30 PM by British Airways from London, having transferred there from another British Airways flight, non-stop from Los Angeles, a long flight! We departed LAX at 6 PM on Tuesday evening. The flights went well with a little turbulence only once or twice over Greenland and Iceland. The real challenge was changing planes – and terminals – at London’s Heathrow Airport; our LA flight arrived at Terminal 5 and our Budapest flight departed from Terminal 3 but what a hassle! A real nightmare, but we made it! On arrival we were met by Viking personnel who handled our transfer to the Budapest Marriott Hotel, a very nice and new hotel at which Viking houses their cruise guests; it is on the Danube River near the famous Chain Bridge, and the view from our room is fabulous! Across the River to Castle Hill with the old buildings lit brilliantly at night, along with the lights on the Chain Bridge and the many river boats cruising back and forth: breathtaking view! Needless to say, we were exhausted from the long flights and time changes; Budapest is 8 hours ahead of California time. After a short orientation talk we got our room keys and very shortly were luxuriating in our beautiful room, enjoying the lights outside our window before crashing into a well-awaited sleep. Of course, around 2 or 3 AM, I was wide-awake. We finally arose around 5 AM, showered and changed for our 6:30 AM breakfast buffet down in the lobby. What a breakfast buffet! I started with a custom omelet accompanied by sausages and bacon, juices and coffee. Plenty to eat for the day! Then came our Viking Tour of Budapest from 8:30 AM until 12:30 PM that covered both the “Pest” and “Buda” sides of the city, divided by the Danube River. Having been here before I remembered a lot but had forgotten how really splendid is the city of Budapest; it is truly an architectural treasure! Paris and Vienna can hardly compare. By the time of our return from this tour, I was again dragging from lack of sleep, so the afternoon was spent enjoying another long nap. Now I should be caught up, ready for tomorrow’s optional tour out to the Gödöllõ Royal Palace, and our transfer to the Viking riverboat, the Rinda where I look forward to our upgraded Veranda Suite. These two nights at this Marriott have been a real pleasure but it will be good to finally be aboard our river boat, one of Viking’s new “Longships”, for the next week, cruising DOWN the Danube toward Bucharest and the Black Sea. ***Arrivederci, Budapest!*** Yesterday after our sumptuous breakfast buffet at the Marriott Hotel – I again enjoyed a delicious custom-made omelet along with bacon, sausages and sautéed mushrooms, we were requested to have our luggage placed in the hallway by 8 AM in preparation for transfer to the nearby riverboat. We had chosen to take the optional tour out to visit the Gödöllõ Royal Palace from 10 AM until 1:30 PM, returning then directly to our riverboat for embarkation, and it turned out to be a very interesting trip. The weather could not have been more pleasant; still a little nippy in the early morning but brilliant sunshine during the day. The 45-minute bus ride out of central Budapest was along an impressive new motorway (freeway) into the countryside, just now showing the beginnings of spring with green just starting to show in the trees and some trees already resplendent in their blossoms. The Palace is very historic, dating back for centuries, and is now still undergoing restoration from it many years under Communism when it was used for Russian Army barracks. One could hardly believe it now with the shape it is in, or at least that portion of the 135-room mansion that has been restored. The 20 or so rooms which we were able to visit were absolutely stunning, decorated authentically with draperies and other period fixtures such as stoves, furniture and magnificent paintings. It was at one time the summer home of the Hapsburg family, the royalty of the time. Our arrival at the riverboat coincided with that of several other buses and our introduction to our cruising “home” for the next week was less than cordial. Lunch had been prepared in the dining room, or rather sandwiches, soups and salads, but the onslaught of up to 200 passengers was not handled well, I thought, and I was lucky to grab what little food I could. There was complimentary wine, however, which made up for some of the staff’s shortsightedness in coping with such a crowd of starving passengers. Afterwards we checked in at Reception and were given our room keys and shown to our staterooms. As previously mentioned, we had been upgraded from a Veranda Stateroom to one of the 7 Veranda Suites, and ours is the first on the third deck. Awaiting us was chilled champagne and glasses as well as a small floral arrangement on the coffee table in the living room, separate from the bedroom and large bathroom. Very luxurious! The Viking Rinda is one of the newer ships and shows many advanced features unusual for river boats, including sliding “pocket” doors, a spacious balcony with chairs and a table, TWO large screen TVs – one in the living room and one in the bedroom, exotic lighting, and a huge shower with upgraded hardware. I am quite impressed and may never want to go back to a standard stateroom! A safety drill was held at 5:15 PM and then at 6 was a welcome toast by the Captain and his staff in the Lounge – which is just down the way on Deck 3: free champagne! Then a lengthy discussion by the Cruise Manager of the next day’s activities. Finally dinner was served in the Dining Room, downstairs on Deck 2, at 7 PM. Unlike the earlier unpleasant lunch experience, dinner was well handled and I was most impressed with the style of service: menu selections, etc. It was most reminiscent of the dinner service one would expect on an ocean cruise ship. Of course, wine is now complimentary at lunch and dinner. Seating is open and there is only the one seating, so everyone finds their own seats at the tables for 6 or more. We were lucky to have met another couple on our City Tour of Budapest with whom we were seated at dinner. It was a most pleasant experience; my choice of grilled prawns was excellent. At 9 PM after dinner there was entertainment in the Lounge – a local Budapest group, but I chose to retreat to our Suite for an early-to-bed. Right now it is quite early – around 5; my sleep patterns are still not back to normal, so I just got up and decided to compose this email to you. This morning breakfast is at 7 AM in the dining room and our morning tour leaves at 8:30 AM. I will describe further this afternoon. ***Cruising Down the Danube*** Right now we just departed Vukovar, Croatia where we have been docked for the day, enjoying a full morning tour to Osijek. The weather has been beautiful! Clear skies with a slight chill in the air. Spring is just arriving here with most of the trees and bushes all budded-out. Yesterday we were docked at Kalocsa, Hungary and our morning tour included a city tour, stopping at an Archbishop’s Residence before proceeding out to a horse farm in the Puszta (plains) for a very entertaining horse show. Before in 2007 we had taken a tour out of Budapest to a similar – and far superior – horse show, and I had mistakenly assumed that this one would be the same; wrong! Interesting, never the less, with expert riding demonstrations and bull whips by the Hungarian cowboys, dressed in their traditional costume of flowing blue culottes. Today was our first visit in Croatia, still showing signs of the terrible “Homeland War” of the 90s when Serbia attacked and did considerable devastation to the country. Our first stop was at a home, made into a tourist attraction by its owner. Samples of homemade brandies were offered as well as white and red wines along with snacks. Many hand-made items were available for sale, along with the brandies. An interesting visit. Then it was a drive on into Osijek to the ancient fort there for a short walking tour, one stop being at a church; the cobble-stone streets added to the ancient style of the houses, schools and other church buildings. After our morning tours, it is back to the riverboat for lunch aboard, and then – usually – a lengthy afternoon nap. (My internal clock is still messed up!) Tomorrow we are in Belgrade, Serbia for the day, so our usual 8:30 AM until 12:30 PM city tour will be on schedule, back to the boat for lunch, and then optional independent touring back into the center of Belgrade. Time for bed. ***The Iron Gates of the Danube*** Today there were no ports of call for us; instead the entire day was devoted to cruising down the Danube, one area of interest being the region of the River referred to as the Iron Gates. This region is characterized by its very narrow gorge, faced on each bank with tall, sheer cliffs of rugged rock structures. On one particular cliff is sculpted the face of a man, of huge dimensions. We passed through this region this morning around 9 to 10 o'clock. Then came the gigantic “Iron Gate” locks (2) which lower vessels traveling down river by 17 and 16 meters, respectively, a joint project of the former Yugoslavia and Romania on the two banks of the Danube here. The lengthy process of passing through these two locks brought us past lunchtime, and so now – past lunch, the river is quite wide with fairly low hills on each bank. Yesterday in Belgrade, our morning city tour was extensive, traveling to both sides of the Danube in this large city of several million. Highlights of this tour was a visit to the gigantic church which sits atop the city; although appearing complete from the exterior, it is far from complete, its construction having been interrupted on many occasion by wars, so now the interior is still under construction which is predicted to be complete in the year 2020. During WWII the Germans used the structure as a garage, and during the communist era, very little was done on its construction. The second highlight of our tour was the ancient fort that sits high above the city and river, and has been the source of interest for hundreds of years under the various military regimes. Now it is a park popular by school children and tourists alike. Afterwards, we returned to our riverboat for lunch, but then free shuttle busses were available at various times during the afternoon to return to the City Center for further sightseeing. We took the 3:00 PM bus and I sat at a sidewalk café while Jim raced around to different historic points of interest for photographs. We returned to the ship on the last shuttle at 5:20 PM. Although there was a local Serbian musical group performing aboard our riverboat after dinner at 9 PM, I chose to skip it and get another early-to-bed; the lengthy walking tours of the day had taken their toll. We again lost another hour to a time-change last night, so it was a lazy morning for me. Right now we will be taking a tour of the wheelhouse aboard ship. ***Goodbye to the Danube*** This morning we are disembarking the Viking Rinda after 7 days of luxurious living and cruising down the Danube from Budapest; at 8:30 AM we will be bussed on into the Romanian city of Bucharest, a trip of an hour and a half. Our bags have to be placed in the hallway by 8 AM, so it was a late night last night, getting everything packed up again. Tonight we will be staying at the Radisson Blu Hotel in Bucharest, another 5 star hotel. Yesterday was our second day visiting Bulgaria, and it was a full day tour down to Veliko Tarnovo, once the ancient capital of Bulgaria; it was a hour and a half drive through rolling hills of farmland, lush with new growth of crops. The city is built on the top of a mountain – literally, and I was reminded of some of the homes in Laguna Beach, clinging to hillsides. We visited one area of choice homes that included an ancient church of low design and filled with exquisite murals. Our lunch was at a nearby restaurant and offered local Bulgarian dishes: a delicious salad of tomato, cucumber and peppers with a white cheese, a bowl of hot vegetable soup, and a chicken dish cooked in a crockery pot. All absolutely good. The day before we had also taken a drive from the port of Vidin down to another hilltop city of Belogradchik where is located a natural rock outcropping around which an ancient fort is constructed; reaching it was a real challenge to reach. Time to go so this report will be a bit short. ***Our First Day in Bucharest*** After departing the Viking Rinda in the port city of Giurgiu, Romania, just across the Danube River from Russe, Bulgaria, we were bussed into Bucharest during the morning. Our first stop was at a large park in which exact replicas of ancient houses of Romanian heritage are displayed. All very interesting but we were all ready for lunch! Lunch did follow shortly in a large restaurant where we were served delicious vegetable and beef soup along with a salad, followed by a chicken-cooked-in-a-pot dish with rice. Dessert of ice cream, in addition to complimentary wine of course, completed this enjoyable repast. Our second stop during an extensive city tour of this beautiful city of 3 million was at the gigantic Parliament Building, the second largest building in the world – bested only by the Pentagon Building in Washington, D.C. Entrance to this building is highly restricted, requiring passports and a security clearance – similar to that at airports. Built by CeauÈ™escu in the late 80s – as a monument to himself, the building was not yet finished before CeauÈ™escu’s death in 1989. Climbing the 300 marble steps was a real challenge for me but led to the many rooms we were permitted to visit. Every item used in the construction is native to Romania including the many tons of white marble and the magnificence of the over-sized, enormous rooms is awesome. Many very large chandeliers enhance the ornately adorned ceilings and the floors are all done in marble mosaic designs. An amazing structure to say the least! Needless to say, the return DOWN those 300 marble steps was even more of a challenge for me! Finally we were dropped at our hotel, the Radisson Blu, where we found our rooms to be just as splendid as those in the Budapest Marriott. Viking certainly does things in a 5-star manner! Dinner was on our own, and this would be the final evening for those returning home the next morning; for those 23 of us remaining for the 3-night Transylvania Extension, our transfer by bus to Brasov would follow the next morning. ***Back in Bucharest*** Late this afternoon we returned to Bucharest for two more nights before our return home on Tuesday morning, April 8th. Last evening we spent the night in the Transylvania city of Brasov, at the Ramada Hotel, having spent the morning driving the hour and a half distance from Bucharest; we stopped during midmorning at a giant new shopping center, CarreFour, for a toilet break. The center is similar to a large Costco shopping center and was very impressive in its offerings and substantial customer base. Then it was on to Peles Palace, one of the summer homes of Romanian royalty; ornate dims in meaning to the splendor of this place, loaded with tourists. The woodcarvings were most impressive. It was then to lunch at a nearby restaurant and then eventually to our hotel, after an extensive city tour. Dinner was at a local restaurant downtown, reached by a hotel shuttle bus, since the hotel’s location was not very convenient. Yesterday our main interest was in the small town of Bran and its famous “Dracula” Castle. The fame of this legend has transformed this sleepy little town into a major tourist attraction, and it was with hordes of other tourists with which we toured the many rooms. The weather had changed during our drive into the Transylvanian mountains and it was quite cold and wet. The long drive back to Bucharest gave opportunity for a nap, interrupted only by a repeat visit to the large CarreFour shopping center for a break. It was still nice to again be in our comfortable room here at the Radisson Blu Hotel. ***Today in Constansa*** At 5 PM we returned from our day tour to Constansa on the Black Sea. Since we were the only ones opting for this special tour, it was essentially a private tour for us, conducted by Adrian, a former cruise program manager, in his car, traveling the 150 miles along a high-speed toll road between Bucharest and Constansa. Despite the time involved – around 3 hours each way, it was a very interesting drive through absolutely flat farm land, crossing the Danube – and a tributary – twice in addition to the Danube Canal connecting the River directly to the Black Sea. Although rather run down from its former elegance as a Black Sea summer resort, Constansa reeks of history and is one of the oldest cities in Romania. Many ancient buildings are currently under renovation, so needed by so many others. Our first stop was at an old mosque whose interior displayed brilliant mosaics and religious icons. Then a short walk brought us to the old casino, rather run down and in need of restoration; outstanding architecture in any case. Then we took a short walk up one of the streets through the old part of the city to City Art Museum. A short drive took us to the Mamia district of the city that is lined with resort hotels facing the Black Sea, and walked out onto the wide sandy beach. I actually dipped my hand into the waters. Surprising to me was the considerable surf rolling in; not big enough for serious surfing but substantial never the less. We then stopped at a nice restaurant for a delicious lunch before saying goodbye to the Black Sea and the charming city of Constansa. Needless to say naps were in order during the long drive back to Bucharest. It was a fine day and this tour completes my cruising from the North Sea in Amsterdam to the Black Sea in Constansa. Tonight will be spent rearranging our luggage for its final transfer tomorrow morning: 6:15 AM for luggage with a 6:30 AM departure for the airport. Our British Airways flight to London departs at 8:50 AM. So this much-anticipated “Passage to Eastern Europe” cruise/tour has come to an end, a very satisfied and full filling experience. ***Home Again*** The long trip is over and went exactly as planned, with the exception of our arrival at LAX and the long, LONG walk from the remote landing area - via bus to the new Bradley Terminal – through the new section and finally to the immigration control, and THEN the long walk on to the baggage claim and THEN to customs control, and FINALLY to the exit and finding SuperShuttle for our ride home. NOT a very “welcome home!” We decided to stay at Jim’s Long Beach apartment overnight before returning me home the next day, Wednesday, where I have been trying to recuperate from the substantial jetlag: a 10-hour time change from Bucharest, Romania. Yesterday was the first day I have felt “normal.” So, I am now home, rested from jetlag, and still enthralled with the great experiences this “Passage to Eastern Europe” cruise/tour has provided. I am SO GLAD that I was recovered sufficiently to have proceeded with this trip, so long planned and anticipated. Ron   Read Less
1 Helpful Vote
Sail Date: December 2013
The Cruise Overall, pretty much what I expected, having read many threads and posts on the Cruise Critic message board, as well as other sites. As we were going during Christmas, I was expecting very cold weather. As it turns out, we got ... Read More
The Cruise Overall, pretty much what I expected, having read many threads and posts on the Cruise Critic message board, as well as other sites. As we were going during Christmas, I was expecting very cold weather. As it turns out, we got very lucky and had mostly unseasonably better weather than you normally get this time of year. I had bought a new, heavy duty winter coat, waterproof boots, and other winter paraphernalia. I only wore my big coat a few times, and got along with a lighter coat, supplemented by a layer of a long sleeve tee shirt and a light sweater. I also used gloves and a hat most days. The temperature was usually in the 40s, the only bad weather was the last day in Kinderdijk, the windmills, when it was cold, rainy, and very windy. Most of the time the weather was ok, making the trip much more enjoyable. You never know about the weather, though. Just the week before, there had been a major snow storm in that part of Europe. We saw the remains on the mountains in the Black Forest, but that was the extent of snow that we encountered. I probably should mention that we are from New Orleans, so when the temperature gets below 50, we get cold. My wife was also very comfortable wearing a variety of coats, and other layers. The cruise started in Basel, Switzerland. We booked our cruise, including flights and a two-day post cruise extension in Amsterdam, directly through Viking. We worked with Ceasar Reyes [], who was extremely helpful, accessible, and knowledgeable about the various tours. He originally suggested the Rhein Getaway cruise when my wife first talked to him. Of course, I then took over the process and was leaning to the Danube Waltz, with a chance to visit Vienna. Ceasar told me he thought the Rhein Getaway would be a better cruise for our first one, and he was right. I'm sure the Danube Waltz cruise is great also, but the Rhein cruise was perfect for us. As this was our first river cruise, after several ocean cruises (Carnival and Windstar). We picked Viking based on a recommendation from some friends who have traveled with Viking several times. Viking did not disappoint us, but I will talk more specifically about Viking later in this review. We also decided to let Viking handle all of our travel arrangements for several reasons: the price seemed reasonable, if anything caused us to be late getting to the boat and we were on a Viking sponsored trip, they would hopefully hold the boat, and we figured if we ran into any problems getting to or from the cruise (weather, in particular), Viking would help get us to where we needed to go better than if we were doing all of this on our own. I know there is a lot of debate on these message boards regarding using the cruise company for all or your travel arrangements, using a travel agent, or doing everything other than the cruise on your own. I think it is all up to the individual and how much risk, you are able to stomach. For us, using Viking for everything made sense, but I can see doing other things on your own, or using a TA to work for you. As a side note, on the last couple of Carnival cruises from New Orleans to Mexico, we have booked our own shore excursions outside of the Carnival offers, and it worked out well. The only thing you have to make sure is to give yourself enough time to get back to the boat before it sails, because they will leave you. Our travel arrangements were from New Orleans to Washington Dulles to Frankfort, Germany to Basel. Returning was from Amsterdam to Chicago to New Orleans. All of the flights were either United or Lufthansa or their subsidiaries. The flights, though long, were acceptable. Going over was the weekend before Christmas, so the planes were full. We were on a really big Lufthansa for the Washington to Frankfurt flight, one with a 3-5-3 configuration in steerage class, and I was sitting in the window seat on the right hand side. I felt cramped in my seat on this flight. We looked into upgrading, but the costs of 1st class or business class was too expensive. We were able to upgrade to more legroom using Economy Plus on the Amsterdam to Chicago flight for $274. I thought that upgrade was well worth the money, as that was the longest leg of the flight, nearly 9.5 hours. The New Orleans to Washington flight was delayed about a half hour, but we still got to Washington in plenty of time to make our Frankfurt connection. All of the other flights were on time and we had plenty of time to get to our connections. One thing I have learned regarding traveling to Europe is that it is a very long flight, so you just have to make the best of it. If you can afford, or have mileage, to upgrade, by all means, do it. We used the neck pillows you can buy in the airport gift shops, as well as the pillows and blankets the airline gives you. I had looked into sleeping pills, but after hearing some horror stories about Ambien, I decided against that and we went au natural. I will tell you that no matter how difficult or inconvenient it is to get to Europe, it is well worth the hassle. The cruise took us from Basel to Breisach to Strasbourg (Kehl) to Heidelberg (Mannheim) to Koblenz to Cologne to Kinderjik to Amsterdam. Seven nights. All of the ports where nice. The point of this cruise was the Christmas markets and spending Christmas day on the Rhein. Each morning, there was a planned excursion (free), and in Breisach, there was an optional tour to Colmar, France. In Strasbourg there was an optional tour to the Alsace wine country to the town of Obernai, and in Cologne, there was an optional tour to 5 different brew houses to sample the local beer, known as Kolsch. Each of the optional tours was around 35-40 Euros. Euros are about 1.4 times the US dollar, so 40 Euros = around $56 US. There was also an optional tour normally scheduled in either Heidelberg or Koblenz, but it was not offered because of Christmas. I thought the optional tours were well worth the time and money. We went to a small vineyard in the small town of Obernai owned by Robert Blanck. He took us into the cellar, explained the wine making process, and showed us two barrels that have been in use by his family since the 1700's. I continue to be amazed at how old and how much history there is in Europe. We live in New Orleans and think we have a lot of history here. Compared to Europe, we are limited regarding history. This winemaker in Obernai, France has wine barrels older than the US. Strasbourg, France was founded in 5 BC. Just one other reason to visit Europe as often as possible. One other interesting note regarding wine production is as you go North in France and Germany, white wine is more predominant. Due to the colder weather in that region, the white grapes are hardier and can withstand the colder temperatures better. Some red wine is produced in the region, but most red wine is produced in the southern part of Europe. The tours were very well organized, and most people on the cruise participated in the ones included in the cost of the cruise. The tours always included a non-strenuous group, so pretty much everyone on the cruise was able to go. We also used little radio devices with an earpiece that allowed us to hear the tour guides very well. The radios are kept in chargers in your room and you take them with you on each tour. Another nice touch that Viking provided was a bottle of water and maps for each of us as we left the ship for the tour. On several occasions there was also some food waiting at the boat when we got back. Nothing big, but a small sample of a quiche lorraine for example. The tours do involve getting on and off buses, but really, there is no other way to get you from the river to the various sites within a reasonable driving distance of the ports we docked at. The longest bus ride was to and through the Black Forest, but we stopped twice, so the amount of time spent on the bus was broken up adequately. The tour guides we had were great, spoke very understandable English, had great knowledge of the areas we were touring, and were extremely pleasant and helpful. I usually tipped them 10 Euros, which I thought was well worth it. One thing to say also about the tours regards the bus drivers. These guys really don't get much appreciation, but they are essential to making the tours go smoothly. Some of the roads they have to navigate are very narrow, or winding, or up and down mountains. On the same tour, they may encounter a mountain road with snow, ice, or rain, a small local narrow road, or even the autobahn. They also stay with the buses while you are off, allowing you to leave your packages or coats, without worrying whether they will be there when you get back. I thought they did a great job and I would give them a 5 Euro tip at the end of the tour. I know tips are an issue to a lot of people on these cruises, as well as on other cruises. My rule of thumb is that if the person provides a service of value, then they should get a tip. Again, you have to decide individually how you feel about tipping and go from there. As far as the Christmas markets go; that is a very subjective discussion. First, most of the Christmas markets close on the afternoon of the 23rd. If your main reason for taking a cruise this time of year is to spend time at the markets, I would suggest you go earlier in the month. I believe most of the markets open around our Thanksgiving time. We were able to go to the markets in Basel, Colmar, Strasbourg, and Obernai. We did find other markets open in Cologne after Christmas, but the one there was a little different from the ones we visited before Christmas. One other thing to note. In Germany, Christmas is celebrated on the 24th, with the 25th and 26th being holidays. Starting the afternoon of the 24th, stores started closing and hardly anything was open in Koblenz on the 25th, while more stuff was reopening when we got to Cologne on the 26th. Just beware that around Christmas, lots of things are not open, so plan accordingly. Again, having done a lot of research prior to the trip, we were not surprised or mad because of it. We knew what we were getting into before we left. My opinion of the Christmas markets was that once you saw one, you've seen them all. I was expecting more of an arts and crafts type market. While there was some of that, there was also a lot more commercially produced items for purchase. We still enjoyed going through them. The best part of them, to me, was the food and drinks available. The bratwurst and knockwurst grilled over open fire pits were awesome. If you've ever been to the Salt Lick barbecue joint outside Austin, Tx, you will see where they got their idea for their fire pit that they cook on. They also have hamburgers, called meatballs, that are excellent. There is a wide variety of pastries and other desert items. Drinks include beer (very, very good) and Gluhwein. Gluhwein is hot red or white wine, with some cinnamon, sugar, and citrus peel added to it. It is served very hot and you get to keep the mugs it comes in after you pay for it. I think it is an acquired taste, as after one, I didn't need any more. The market we found in Cologne was different from the others in that it stays open for a few weeks in January, after Christmas. It had a lot of food and beer available. We actually had a tequila shot, which is served with a piece of bacon, rather than a lime. Got to love the Germans and their food. We also found a curling rink there, which was great, as I love watching the curling competition in the Olympics which is coming up shortly. Overall, the Christmas markets were enjoyable, but we did not take the cruise just for that reason. Also, getting money is no problem. There are ATMs everywhere. You can access them easily. The only problem I had was in Basel, which uses Swiss francs, when I couldn't figure out how to get Euros out of the machine. Since we got francs, which are only used in Switzerland, we used them all in Basel before we got back on the boat to start the cruise. I did let my bank know that we would be in Europe over the dates of the cruise before we left and had no problem using our debit cards anywhere we were. I did not let American Express know that we would be in Europe, and we got a call from them in Amsterdam, after we had used our card at the Heineken factory. The AmEx website said that there was no need to let them know if you would be traveling, but next time, I will let them know as well. It's good to know that they are looking out for you. A lot of the market stands took AmEx as well as cash. I was really interested in seeing Strasbourg as I have always heard what a fabulous city it is. I was not disappointed. Strasbourg is fabulous. One of the things we really like visiting in Europe are the churches. The cathedral in Strasbourg is no exception. It is incredible. At this time of year, with schools out and people getting ready for Christmas, the crowds are pretty big in the cities we visited. Especially in Strasbourg, Cologne, and Amsterdam. We were able to get into the cathedral and tour it, even with a lot of other people trying to do the same thing. They have a little gift shop right in the cathedral that we were able to buy a few Christmas presents. I found some first day covers (envelopes) commemorating Pope John-Paul II's mass he said at the cathedral in 1988. Those are some nice Christmas presents for some of my friends who collect stamps. All in all, Strasbourg was everything I ever heard about it and was great getting to see it. The Black Forest was another area that we really wanted to see. The weather turned out really nice, as we had a lot of sunshine as we rode up and down the hills and mountains. Lots of leftover snow, but we didn't have to deal with it, just look at it from a distance. We stopped at a church in one of the small towns in the forest. Just spectacular. We then went to the cuckoo factory, which also has the restaurant serving Black Forest cake. We were also offered the opportunity to hike part of a trail leading into the forest, which we did. Trail follows a mountain stream and because of the weather the past week, there was still some icy patches that you had to maneuver over. This was a somewhat strenuous hike and if you are the least bit mobility challenged, I would forgo this excursion. You were able to go as far as you wanted and we probably walked about a half-mile up and a half-mile down. Plenty of exercise for me. My wife, who works out daily, was having some withdrawal issues with not having gym facilities available on the boat. I kept reminding her that she was getting plenty of exercise during these excursions, even though she didn't feel like she was working out. We ended up in the clock factory. We bought a really nice one, as well as several other items. The good thing about this store was that they will send everything home for you. That came in really handy as at the end of our trip, we had no room left in our suitcases to get everything else home. The cuckoo clocks come in a wide variety of prices, so if you want to get one, I think everybody can find an affordably priced clock. They appear to be well made and the people working in the store where very helpful and spoke very good English. The price of the items we purchased, plus the shipping and insurance came to about $500 US, which I thought was a pretty good price. We found other cuckoo clocks in other places we visited on the cruise and all of the prices were similar. At least I can say that ours came from the Black Forest. We didn't get a chance to try the BF Cake, but from folks who did it sounded like it tasted pretty good. Maybe next time. So after Strasbourg and the Black Forest, I was very happy with the cruise, because those were the two things I really wanted to see. And then we got to Cologne. Let me just say that Cologne in the nicest place I have ever been to. In fact, I am now reviewing my retirement plans to see if I can retire to Cologne. Cologne is clean, civilized, and the people are extremely friendly. The cathedral blows away every other church I have ever seen, including the cathedral in Strasbourg that we had seen just days before. Cologne, as was most of Germany, was destroyed during WWII by around the clock bombing for over a year. In the daytime, the Americans bombed it, and at night, the English bombed it. Everything was destroyed, except for the cathedral and the original brew house. Don't know how those two structures survived, but they did. Someone must have been looking out for religion and beer during those horrible times. The Germans blew up the bridge over the Rhein as they retreated when General Patton and the US Army showed up. Everything had to be rebuilt, so most of the city is around 50-60 years old. So even though Cologne has been around a very long time (founded in 38 BC, 38 BC!), it is a very modern city. As I mentioned before, we did a pub crawl that evening after dinner and sampled the really good Kolsch beer brewed in Cologne. That was a lot of fun. Also, as everywhere we went on this cruise, even after dark, I was never concerned for our safety in any of the areas we were in. During our entire 10 day stay, I only saw three policemen, and they were all in Amsterdam. I am sure there is a police presence in Europe, they just blend in very well or I didn't know where to look for them. On Christmas Eve, we were in Mainz, which was pretty well closed down by the late afternoon. We did find a nice Catholic church about 3 blocks from the boat that had a mass at 5 or 6 pm. Can't remember exactly the time. It was a very easy walk to the church and we got there about 20 minutes before the mass started. As all churches are at Christmas and Easter, this one was packed, and it was a good size church. We were able to find a space to sit on the side of an alternative alter in the very back. Couldn't see the alter, where the priest was, but could see a little on a TV monitor about 50 feet in front of us. Although the mass was in German, we could pretty much keep up with it, as the mass was said in the same order it goes at our church at home. My wife was able to take communion fairly easily, as they had a number of Eucharistic ministers and assistant priests giving communion, so it did not take very long to minister to the entire church. It was nice to get to the mass, especially since it wasn't at midnight. On Christmas day, we cruised up the Rhein, viewing all of the castles on both sides of the river. It was very enjoyable and a really unique way to spend Christmas. I was a little worried about my wife on Christmas day, as we would be away from our kids, but especially that we would be away from the grandkids. It worked out fine as we were able to face time all of them on Christmas day, which allowed us to wish everyone a Merry Christmas and make sure they were all ok. We were able to keep up with work, home, and the world while on this cruise. I have an Apple iPhone 5s, and my wife has an earlier iPhone model. We were able to stay connected to the internet on the boat most of the time. The only time we lost reception for any sustained period was when we cruised up the Rhein on Christmas day. I think it was because the mountains were the highest there and the river is the narrowest there. That was the only time we didn't have internet access, and I'm talking only 1-2 hours. I was also able to access the internet through my Kindle Fire while on the boat. The last stop on the cruise was Amsterdam, where we had booked a 2-day extension. In hindsight, we should have planned a pre-cruise extension and left immediately after the cruise to fly home. I woke up on Saturday in Amsterdam with one of the worst hangovers I have had in a long time, on top of a lack of sleep catching up with me. Needless to say, we had a great time at the Captain's dinner and the last night in the bar the previous night. We were taken to our hotel, the Radisson Blu, and while waiting for our rooms, we were taken on a two hour walking tour. The tour was great and the guide was extremely knowledgeable and helpful, especially after the tour during the rest of the day and the next day. However, nursing a hangover and needing some sleep, a walking tour was not the best way to recover, especially as the weather had turned cold. We made it through the tour and back to the hotel, where we got into our room around 2:30 pm, and were able to get some much needed rest, before tackling the crazy city of Amsterdam. Amsterdam is nice, but honestly, don't think we will be going back, other than using the airport. Amsterdam is noted for the red-light district and the availability of marijuana. And yes, there is a lot of both. However, once you've seen the red light district, you don't need to see it again. And even though marijuana is not legal in Amsterdam, a huge misconception, it is, in the words or our tour guide, "tolerated". Also, after the cruise is over, being as tired as we were, it would have been better to have gone straight to the airport, got on the plane, and slept on the way home. Oh well, you live and learn. Even though a pre-cruise extension would have worked for us, a post-cruise extension may work better for others. Some people may also want to extend the cruise at both ends; nothing wrong with that approach either. We did get to tour the Heineken factory. It was great and we picked up some presents for my son and son-in-laws there. We also did one of the get on/get off buses, which gave us a chance to see all of Amsterdam, from a distance. Also, the Radisson Blu is a very nice hotel, very well located. Our room was great. Good choice by Viking. The airport in Amsterdam is great. Very organized and easy to get around in. Line to check in Monday morning (12/30) was extremely long, but it moved fast as they had plenty of people working the counter. I think we only stood in line for 30-45 minutes. As we kept getting closer to our gate, I kept waiting for the security lines, but they never appeared. It turns out that the security checkpoint is at the individual gate. Once we got to the gate we went to a little stand where we showed our passports and tickets and were asked the usual questions, did you pack your own luggage, has it been in your possession the whole time, etc. We then went through the scanners. Pretty easy for the most part. My wife got a pretty thorough hand search, but that seems to happen to her every time she flies. Also, the other thing that I liked about flying into Europe was once we got through customs in Frankfurt, we were done until we left Amsterdam. Because of the European Union, they have removed border checks for passports, so once you get into a country you can to everywhere else without having to be checked. Made for traveling through 4 different countries very easy. As I said, we really enjoyed the cruise. It was pretty much what I expected based on the research I had done before we left. Let me take the opportunity, before I forget, to thank everyone who participates on these boards, allowing folks like me and my wife, to do a lot of research before any of our trips. There are a lot of issues with the internet, but the Cruise Critic website and the message boards are part of what is great about the it. The Boat: Viking Rinda The Viking Rinda, which is named for the Norse god of the frozen earth, or at least that's what I think the description of the picture at the top of the staircase said, is the river boat we sailed on. It is one of the newer Viking longboats, and I think it is only a couple of years old. It is very efficiently designed, using limited space optimally. When you enter the boat, you generally come in on the starboard (right) side. You walk into the "lobby" with the front desk and concierge located to your left. There is a small gift shop on the far wall. The entrance is on the second deck, there being three decks all together. We were in Veranda Suite 304 on the 3rd deck. We had the first room as the rooms start, which gave us great access to the lounge, which was at the front of the ship on the 3rd deck. The Veranda Suite includes a sitting room with a couch, chair, and TV. The front room is where the balcony is located, accessible through a sliding glass door. There is also a mini-refrigerator located there. The bedroom had a sliding glass door that accessed the outside. We had a nice size, probably queen, bed. Very comfortable. Their is also a TV in the bedroom. The bathroom was adequate, located to the right of the bed. Very narrow, with the shower on the right, the sink in the middle, and the toilet to the left. The bathroom has a pocket door that closes very easily. It is also a step-up into it, so be careful if you have mobility issue or have had too much to drink. There was a closet with a small, two-drawer dresser located at the bottom of the closet. To the left of the dresser was the closet floor, used for storing shoes and dirty clothes. Overall, the room, much like the ship, uses the limited space very efficiently. Storage is an issue, as there is not much of it. Part of it was our fault as we, mainly me, way over packed for what we did and what the weather turned out to be. My wife insisted that she used everything she brought, so I am not going to try to describe or explain packing from the female perspective. Hopefully, there are other threads that the women can get some ideas as to what is needed in the way of clothes, coats, and other items for a trip of this duration during this time of year. I will say that I brought a lot of stuff (bathing suit, short sleeve shirts, too many pairs of socks) that I had no need of nor use for. What I did end up needing more of was long sleeve t-shirts and light weight sweaters/sweatshirts. I only brought 4 long-sleeve shirts, so I used the on-board laundry service to wash them, so that they lasted through the trip, including Amsterdam. The laundry service was very easy to use. You put your clothes in a laundry bag left in your cabin, fill out the sheet describing the articles you need cleaned, and leave it in the room. Your steward picks it up and delivers it back to you the next day. Again, we were extremely lucky with the weather, so most days I went out in a pair of jeans, a long sleeve t-shirt, a light weight sweater/sweatshirt, and a lighter nylon coat, which I threw in my suitcase just as we were leaving the house. I always had my gloves and ski cap, which I used probably 50% of the time when we were outside. We did get a little bit of rain, never enough to really cause problems, it was more that it had rained and it was wet in some of the areas we went to. I wore my waterproof boots on most occasions when it was wet or looked like rain. Other times I wore my new balance walking shoes, or my crocs (with socks). I had purchased 3 pairs of wool socks. I only wore one pair once and it was just too hot, so I stuck to regular socks the rest of the trip. I also brought two pairs of dress pants, several dress shirts, and a blazer. I really didn't need any of that as the cruise is extremely casual. I could have gotten by most nights with what I wore during the day on the excursions. What we generally did, was return to the ship before dinner, shower, and change clothes. I never wore my blazer and only wore one pair of dress pants the first night and the last night, which was the captains dinner. I only wore 2 of the dress shirts, so I could have left probably half of the clothes at home and never missed them. The other thing to think about when packing is that you are in a town or city every day and there are stores available if you forget something or find you really need something you forgot. These cruises are not like going down the Amazon, or to the Galapagos, or to Antarctica. Europe is pretty civilized. As casual as this cruise was, I am curious as to how the dress is during the summer. Are shorts acceptable in the dining room, or are you expected to wear pants? I didn't see any of the other rooms, so I can't really comment on space or storage in them. I will say that because of the time of year, the balcony in our cabin went unused, except to occasionally go outside for some fresh air or to cool off, when the cabin got hot. The boat was extremely warm. I never needed a jacket or coat while on the boat. In fact, we usually slept with the window open in the bedroom to keep the cabin cooler at night. For some reason, I found the boat and most of the buildings we went in very hot. I don't know if people complained that the boat was too cold or if it takes so long to heat things up that once they get warmed up, they don't get cooled off. The first morning, in Breisach, it was pretty neat to go out on the balcony and see all of the ducks and swans hanging out around the boat. I think in the future, we will look at the French Balconies, due to a lower cost and since we didn't spend much time in the room other than sleeping, we can probably get by without the balcony. Although, it was nice to have the extra sitting space. The TV content is interesting. Several channels including CNN, BBC, USA, MGM, and a couple of others that I can't remember. Most of the content was in English, but it seemed to change to German in the mornings. Weird, but we didn't spend a lot of time watching TV. There was also a pretty good selection of movies to watch, all made in the last 10 years or so, with a lot of variety. There was also several music channels, which is probably what we kept the TV tuned to most of the time. There was Country, Pop, Musicals, Classical, and a couple of other channels. Very good variety and kept a nice atmosphere in the room. The TV also had the current weather and two boat cameras, one on the bow (front) and one in the lounge. The Dining Room is located on the 2nd deck, to the right as you enter the boat from the starboard side. It was again a very efficient use of space as everyone usually ate dinner in it, since there is no room service, and the only other food available is in the lounge. (More on that in a minute.) Most of the tables seated 6 people, I think there may have been a few 8's and maybe some 4's, but I don't think there were any 2's. Most people seemed to sit at the same tables with the same people starting about the 3rd night. We didn't eat in the dining room, other than the nightly meal, so I can't comment on breakfast or lunch. The wait staff was pleasant for the most part, but did seem to be a bit hurried in getting folks in and out. The meals were ok, nothing that overly impressed me. I wasn't expecting a 5 star dining experience, but I did expect a different menu than what was offered. There was always a meat, fish, and vegetarian entree, as well as a steak and chicken entree available. The appetizers were good, and the desert was ok. I generally had some ice cream each night which was very good. Again, the food overall was not an issue, I just think it was more what I like to eat and what I don't like to eat. My wife, and everybody else on board, seemed to enjoy the meals and there weren't any complaints that I was aware of. If your interests in taking a cruise is based on food, both quality and quantity, that is not what you will get on this cruise. It is not a Carnival cruise, where you can stuff yourself 24 hours a day. Again, the food was fine just not a lot that I cared for. (I will address the Christmas dinner later, though.) On the 3rd deck, where our stateroom was, there were two computers set up. I didn't use them as our phones and my kindle fire had internet access. They were always in use, every time I went past them. On both sides of the ship, there is a coffee service, which includes tea and hot chocolate. I don't drink coffee, so I can't comment on it, other than to say my wife, who is a huge coffee drinker, liked it. During the day, there was always some pastries and cookies there also. They were very good. On the starboard side was the elevator. So for people with mobility issues, there is a way to get from floor to floor. I don't think the elevator went to the top deck (outside), but I could be wrong. I didn't find the elevator until the next to last day, as it was on the opposite side of the boat from where our cabin was. I want to finish this part with the lounge, but first let me mention the top deck. It obviously was not used much this cruise due to the weather. I am sure during the summer and warmer parts of the year, this deck is used a lot. It has a lot of deck chairs and a place to get towels. There is some shade setup, but most of the deck is open. It has a running track, two putting greens, and a shuffle board court. It also appeared to have a smoking section, but I could be wrong about that. Again, I am sure this deck is used a lot more when it is warmer. One morning, when we did not have to get up, we did hear someone running on the track above us. Our cabin was just below the track, so you could hear it pretty well when someone was up there. Something to think about during other parts of the year if you get a cabin on third deck. Also, the bridge or pilot house is located here. Very interesting. The whole bridge is moves up and down, hydraulically, in order to get under some of the bridges on the river. Again, a very well designed feature on the boat. Back to the lounge, where we spent most of our time on the boat. What can I say, except it was a great place to spend some time. Of course the bar is located here, there is a piano and piano player, who entertains at lunch time and in the evenings. It is also where breakfast and lunch are served, which is where we ate those meals. Both are buffets and the food was good. Always a couple of choices, hamburgers one day, pizza another, as well as soup, salad, bread, and desert. They also had pickled vegetables every day for lunch, which were great. Breakfast included toast, english muffins, etc, with a toaster to toast the bread. Butter, margarine, philly cream cheese, and jelly was available. There was also a selection of cold cuts, ham and salami, and cheese every morning. There was also some pastries available. Fruit was also available both at breakfast and lunch. The fruit, especially the citrus, was very good. Not sure where they got it from during this time of year, but it was very tasty. The dinner menu in the lounge, would have suited me fine if we had eaten there every night. The menu included burgers, quesadillas, ceasar salad with chicken or steak, etc. Basically, bar food. And very good bar food. We ate there twice, once because we wanted a change from the dining room, and once because of some issues related to the Christmas dinner, which I will discuss later. The bar was located in the lounge and it had everything you could want to drink, including soft drinks. Diet Coke is Coke Light in Europe. Tastes better too. We decided to buy the Silver Spirits package right after we booked the cruise, which cost $210 US each, and was well worth it. During meals, beer and wine do flow. You can get plenty of each while you are eating. However, outside of meals, you pay for your drinks, including soft drinks. In looking at the drink menu, for example, Grey Goose vodka ran 7.50 Euros per drink or about $10.50 US. I needed to drink about 20 drinks over the course of the cruise to come out even on the package, which I think I did the first night. The part of the package I wasn't sure about was that anything you wanted to drink, any brand, any amount was included. I asked Ceasar specifically about that and he assured me it was. He was right, anything you wanted at any time, in any quantity was available. It was nice to just order a drink and have it served with no "paperwork". Like most cruises, if you didn't have the package you had to sign a tab for your drinks each time you ordered one. There was also a wine list, different than what was served with meals, that you could order and take to dinner with you. We drank a very good red wine from the Czech Republic that was excellent. The beer was also excellent, as it was all across Europe. When the bartenders and waiters figured out that I like beer, they started serving me in a bigger glass. Very perceptive, those boys and girls. I would highly recommend buying the package. It is well worth the money. I'm not sure, but I think you can buy it on board before the ship sales. You can ask about that if you are interested in purchasing it. Every night in the bar before dinner is a presentation by the cruise director as to what is going to happen the next day. Times, places, etc. There was also usually some type of local entertainment each evening. We usually attended the briefing each night, had a few drinks before dinner, went to dinner, back to the lounge to finish the night. We were generally in our room around 11-11:30 pm each night. So it wasn't like we were staying out until dawn, but we did spend a lot of time in the lounge. There was a piano player with a really great little electric piano he played. It looked like a small grand piano, I mean really small, but was hooked up to an amplifier and had all kind of accompaniments, including background singers to go with the songs. The guy playing the piano was superb. I'm not sure where he was from, but he could really play and sing. All types of music. We were very fortunate that several of the guests turned out to have very good voices, and they did some singing both solo and as duets, during the cruise. We also were able to dance on the small dance floor by the bar. By the last night, there was more dancing and singing than any of the previous nights, even though most nights there was a good crowd in the bar. I'm not sure how that works during other times of the year. You have to realize that it got dark around 4 pm every afternoon, and didn't get daylight until after 8 am in the mornings. It was also too cold to really be outside. In the summer I would imagine there is more use of the outside deck in the evenings, so the lounge may not be as crowded as it was on this trip. There also may be entertainment at night outside also. All in all, the boat is self was perfect for the cruise. Viking has done a very good job with design, functionality, and efficient use of the available space. One other thing, I had read about being docked next to 3-4 other boats in some ports. We only experienced that once, in Koblenz, when we were tied up next to a Tauck boat. It was very easy to get from our boat to theirs to the dock. You went from the top deck, across a little gangway, to the Tauck boat, down some stairs and out there entrance. Nothing difficult at all. BTW, the Tauck boat was really nice, very nicely decorated for Christmas. Since nobody was spending much time outside or on their balconies, I don't think being docked next to another boat was a big issue. However, at other times of the year, it could be an issue for some. One other thing I should mention is the sounds and motion of the boat. Remember, you are on a river so the motion, for the most part, was not really noticeable. From where our cabin was, it was pretty quiet also. You could feel the engines running, but it was more a discreet vibration that seemed to be a part of the "noise" of the ship. Kind of like running your air conditioner at home. Not unpleasant at all. It could be that other parts of the ship may be noisier, but I didn't experience any of that. Also, you need to go outside, regardless or the weather, at least once when going through a lock. It is an incredible experience and a real engineering marvel to see how they are built and how they work. Viking I was extremely satisfied with the cruise, the staff, and the arrangements Viking made for us. In fact, we are trying right now to book another cruise this year, but the dates we want are sold out for just about all of the cruises. That should tell you something about the quality of the Viking cruises. The staff on the boat was incredible. They were always there. I don't know when they sleep, because they were always working. The staff in the lounge was particularly helpful, knowledgeable, and friendly. I think it was by the night of the first day, that most everyone in the lounge new our names, our room, what we liked to drink, etc. There was always somebody cleaning the common areas on the boat. The cruise director, Henriette (I believe), was everywhere. She would be seeing us off on a tour, waiting on us at the bus stops, and welcoming us back to the boat at the end of the tour. I was convinced that she was a twin, if not a triplet. The room steward cleaning our room was great. She was very unobtrusive and did a great job keeping our room cleaned. She seemed to know when we weren't there, to get the cleaning done. When we did run into her, she was very pleasant and friendly. In fact, I never saw anything but smiles from all of the folks working anytime you came across them. To sum up the quality of the people working for Viking on this cruise, early in the cruise one of the windows in the lounge was broken. They taped it up and put a curtain over it during the rest of the cruise. I figured they would fix it when we got to Amsterdam. Sure enough as we got off the boat around 9:00 am, I noticed that the window had already been replaced. And it was a little cold that morning. One other thing I really liked about how Viking treats its passengers was coming and going from the boat. When you left, you picked up a card with your name and cabin # on it. When you came back, you handed the card back in. Upon return, there was no security scans to go through. If you bought something in town, wine for example, you could take it back on board and drink it, if you so desired. That is a very different policy from the ocean cruises I have been on, where bringing booze back is frowned upon, and held for you until the end of the cruise. A small thing, but, in my opinion, a really customer friendly position to take by Viking. I am not sure how these cruises are marketed. Obviously, we see the commercials almost daily on TV and we get the fabulous brochures in the mail. Plus emails almost daily, so I know there is a substantial marketing budget for Viking. I couldn't figure out how this cruise ended up being 100% geared to an English speaking group. As best as I could tell, the cruise was made up primarily of Americans, with some Canadians, some English, some Aussies, a couple from Bermuda, and a family from Mexico City. Everyone I ran into spoke English and all of the tours, events on the Boat, menus, etc. were in English. I wondered what happens if someone from Italy, for example, who does not speak or understand English, calls Viking to book a cruise. Does Viking refer them to a different cruise or cruise line that can accommodate an Italian speaking group? Or does Viking have an ability to accommodate non-English speaking passengers on any of their cruises? Don't know the answers, just curious. The age of our cruise was much younger than I had been led to believe regarding the age of most river cruise passengers. I thought that the cruise would be primarily 70-80 year olds, but I would say the average age of the passengers was probably somewhere in the 40's. There were a number of teen-agers on board, which contributed to the lower overall age than normal. I don't know if the age of our cruise was lower because of the time of the cruise (Christmas, kids out of school) or if river cruises, particularly Viking, is attracting a younger crowd. I would not bring any kids on this cruise unless they were at least teens. I don't think the cruise had any activities for small children, who, I think would have been totally bored on this cruise. The good news is, there are plenty of other cruises that cater to smaller children. We hung around with a couple from California that had their teen age daughters with them, and a Mother and her college age daughter from Nova Scotia. All of the "youngsters" seemed to really enjoy the cruise and liked the tours, meals, connectivity, and overall mood of the cruise. Complaints (and they are very minor) We had one issue in the dining room, on Christmas night for the Christmas dinner. There was a scramble to get to the dining room, as everyone on board wanted to eat there that night. We sent the "teen-agers" I mentioned above down to grab a table, while we adults finished our drinks in the lounge. They got a table, but were chased away from it, by a fellow passenger who told them that that table was hers and that she and her group always set there. The kids, being very well mannered and not wanting to create a scene, left and came back up to the lounge. After we went got down to the dining room, there were no tables left, or seats for that matter. Reluctantly, we went back to the lounge to eat there. As soon as the folks in the lounge heard what had happened, they immediately set up tables to accommodate all of us. When we asked if we could be served the Christmas dinner there instead of the bar food, they went and talked to someone. The next thing we knew, we were studying the Christmas dinner menu, trying to decide what to order. A small disaster averted by the very understanding crew in the lounge. We ended up having a great Christmas dinner with some new friends we had made on the cruise, while we continued sailing up the Rhein. The only other complaint I have, and again a small one, is the Christmas Eve masses in Mainz. There was a group taken by one of the Viking crew to a church for the Christmas Eve services. We were given appropriate notice as to when the group was leaving and what time to be in the lobby. We didn't make it in time to join the group, realizing that we could get to the church on our own as it was only a few blocks away from where the boat was docked. The fact that we missed the group excursion, is not Viking's fault, it was ours. However, it would have been helpful if the staff had provided a listing of churches and times for their services, so we could have decided when to leave and where to go. That's it. That's all the complaints that I have. What we would have done differently We would have done the pre-cruise extension than the post-cruise extension. Although it looks like we have just booked our next cruise in May for the Portraits of Southern France, with a post-cruise extension in Paris. Going to have to get a little more sleep and drink a little less the last night on board to be ready for 3 days in Paris. Getting there a day early will help you get acclimated to your surroundings after spending close to a day getting there. We may try to get to France a day early, closer to where the boat leaves for our cruise in May. We might have looked at going to Paris after the cruise once we found out how easy it was to get there from Amsterdam by train or car. The folks we hung out with were both going to Paris for a few days, one group by car, the other by train. It is very easy to get around Europe, especially by train, and most places are fairly close to each other. For example, Amsterdam to Paris is 5.5 hours by car and 3 hours by train. Something to think about next time. We also will probably try to eat one meal (dinner) off the boat at one of the stops. Not that the food on the boat was not good, it's more that there are some really great restaurants in the ports we visited and we should have taken advantage of that while we were there. Again, maybe next time. I plan to pack much less next time and take advantage of the laundry service on board the ship. Like I said, I way over packed by bringing items I could never wear in the weather we had, and I really only needed casual clothes. Just one more thing I really like about Viking. Next time, I plan to write down the names of all the people, both on the boat and with the tours, so I can name them when asked or if I write another review. As I said before, they were all great, and I should have taken the time to acknowledge each of them properly. Final Comments We were very pleased with the cruise. I was very pleased with all of the Viking folks, on the boat, on the tours, and behind the scenes. They all worked very hard to make our trip memorable. For comparison purposes, this Viking cruise was very similar to our cruises we have taken with Windstar. It is a smaller boat, I heard there were 160 passengers on our cruise, which gives the crew a chance to know who you are and what you like, especially in the bar. There is no casino or workout facility. No spa or 24-hour food service, but we never missed or wanted any of that. Everything about the cruise met or exceeded our expectations, and as you can see, we have already booked a second one. I thought we received great value for the cost of the trip. Overall, I would rate Viking and our cruise on a scale of 1-10, between an 8-9, with a 10 being unobtainable. In my mind a 10 would include sensational weather, unbelievable accommodations and service, and at the end of the trip, we would get our money back. I would highly recommend river cruising, particularly with Viking. We plan to take many more cruises with this very well run company.   Read Less
Sail Date: November 2013
VIKING RINDA CRUISE - RHINE GETAWAY-- NOVEMBER 16-23 -2013 "Happy Crews make for Happy Passenger Journeys" THE VIKING RIVER CRUISE --THE ULTIMATE EXPERIENCE The Viking cruise line is building river cruising ships like they are ... Read More
VIKING RINDA CRUISE - RHINE GETAWAY-- NOVEMBER 16-23 -2013 "Happy Crews make for Happy Passenger Journeys" THE VIKING RIVER CRUISE --THE ULTIMATE EXPERIENCE The Viking cruise line is building river cruising ships like they are going out of style. You don't do that unless business is good. In this current difficult, depressed global economy you have to deliver superlative value to attract customers. Especially, when you will pay thousands of dollars for a one week cruise that includes everything on the rivers of Europe. Viking delivers the ultimate travel experience. Let me qualify myself & explain why. I am a world traveler blessed to see the world as part of my job. I have been traveling globally for over 40 years. I have over 5 million air miles, and have spent more than six complete (365 x 6) years of my life in hotels. After completing my "Rhine getaway cruise" I was left with 4 dominating thoughts. 1. An ocean cruise would have allowed me to see the horizon endlessly for days. On this river cruise I was able to see continuous changing landscapes, Vineyards, Castles, Cathedrals, Villages, Mountains etc. 2. I would have been in long lines for all Ocean cruise activities daily, because Ocean cruise ships generally hold thousands of passengers. On the Viking River Cruise line I was one of 190 passengers, never waited in line for anything and it seemed like every crew member and passenger knew my name. 3. Friendships were formed that would never have had enough time to develop on a large Ocean cruise ship. My wife and I are already planning trips/visits with other passengers (now friends) and future trips together. 4. How I am ever going to adjust to reality now that this magnificent cruise experience is over? I never worried about or planned anything once onboard- just total relaxation and fun. More on that later. My suggestion is to run, don't walk to your nearest travel agent or Viking direct and book a Viking River cruise. You will relax, make new friends, be exhilarated & fascinated by the history and scenery on your journey and enjoy an incredible culinary experience. Every detail of pleasure has been covered by the staff. My wife and I critiqued the experience. We actually tried to find something to complain about. There was nothing. Oh sure, you could say the cabins were a bit small, but if that is your mindset -- then stay home. We were instantly struck when we boarded the ship that there was no line of passengers at the reception desk. That is because Viking allows you to board/check in from early in the morning and throughout the day. They do not depart until late in the evening. We were fortunate that our hotel was only 200 meters from the point of embarkation. I suggest if you are visiting the city of embarkation to do a dry run to your ship. Viking even has pre and post trip extensions from each end of your journey if you want them to handle everything. Be aware that you cannot get into your cabin early on the first day, because the Viking crew is cleaning the ship and the cabins for you. They take that into account and provide a wonderful lunch on board and then you can go back into the city where you depart to finish sightseeing for the day. Below, I offer comments on the key aspects of the trip, like the food, the ship, the crew etc. THE INITIAL PLANNING - NO PRESSURE - JUST A PERFECT CUSTOMIZED CRUISE FOR YOU When I first decided to do a river cruise I found a lot of valuable info about Viking on the web and the Viking site. Their videos were extremely helpful and gave me a feel for the experience. It truly matched what we encountered live on the cruise. The most notable part was the low/no pressure assistance I got dealing direct with Viking. I knew this was going to be a good experience from my very first call to them. My planner was Chris Burns. He was exceptional. He was knowledgeable, polite and helped me craft a custom experience due to my many personal requests, for timing, space, budget and itinerary. Never once did I feel pressured to take a specific ship or departure date. Chris was the consummate professional and happily handled all of my many demanding requests. The welcome packet that outlined the cruise and the itinerary was chock-full of interesting info and facts about the cruise, cities and stops along the way. THE VIKING CRUISE SHIP - THE RINDA - LONGSHIP 17 Our cruise left from the port of Amsterdam. We were able to explore the ship on the first day, so we could locate the restaurants, the business center ( you don't even need to bring your computer, the ship is equipped with a couple workstations to surf and check email) and the various decks. The ship only has 3 levels for cabins and an upper open air deck equipped with a putting green and a running track for the exercise conscious. I told more than few passengers to run a lap for me. On our trip it was too cold to be out for sightseeing, so they provided blankets so you could sit on the deck and view the castles during one very scenic stretch. The reason the ships have only a few decks is so that you can cruise under the many bridges on your journey. The ship is 400 feet long and 25 feet wide. A critical note for anyone who has a fear of seasickness. You really don't know when you are moving or docked-- it is that smooth and quiet. THE ROUTE - AMSTERDAM - GERMANY - FRANCE - SWITZERLAND We chose the "Rhine Getaway" for the itinerary in Germany and France. We wanted to see windmills, castles, cathedrals, quaint villages, vineyards and sample local cuisine. You get a firsthand experience of seeing how the Dutch live in the Windmills and what Castle life was like in the past few centuries as well as the toll that WW 2 took on Europe. There is a constant changing of the scenery, something you don't get on an ocean cruise. One part of the journey ventures through locks. It is an unforgettable experience to see and feel the ship lower and raise almost 30 feet. However, the locks generally occur at night, so take note. The highlight of the trip scenically was the 35 mile stretch on the Rhine in Germany where you could view the many Castles from the upper deck. Note- If you are a smoker here is a spot to enjoy a cigar while cruising and viewing on the top deck. Lounge chairs were plentiful. THE CREW - DEDICATED TO SPOILING YOU I don't know where to begin with the crew. Everyone was at their best every minute of the journey. I asked many of the crew what they think about working for Viking ( because I had a feeling these were very content employees). Viking knows how to treat a crew. I have a saying; "Happy employees make happy passengers". Every crew member without fail said they came from other cruise lines and that Viking was the best employer they ever worked for. That's the sign that you are in for the spoiled treatment for a week. This crew was exceptional. There are 46 of them dedicated to pleasing all your senses. I must relay an incident that really impacted me and will show the true colors of this crew. One morning we passed on a shore excursion and stayed behind to relax. I came out of cabin to see the crew bringing on all the supplies from the dock. The first thing that caught my eye was that the captain was in front leading the charge (getting his hands dirty) to insure all the supplies were efficiently offloaded from the supply truck. Every crew member was in a line from the dock down to the supply room. They passed every box from one to another in a shuffle fashion. They were joking and singing. Viking's crew is the real deal. On a sad note, several of the crew were from the Philippines and the Typhoon tragedy struck while we were cruising. I learned from a member of the crew that they all donated their money to send one of the members back to the Philippines who lost his parents. They are a family. I have to single out a couple people who made the journey special. First the cut up, Rommel, our waiter in the restaurant. He is equipped with a literal "bag of tricks" to play pranks and have fun with the guests. He had everyone laughing with his jokes, pranks and musical entertainment. Next, I have to mention Sylvia from Serbia. She is there only female in the Restaurant and Bar crew. She never missed a beat from the demanding passengers who insured their glasses were always full. And she could really hold her own with the lively , mostly male crew. Robert and Bobby were the other crew assigned to the bar and lounge. These two humble gentlemen seemed to be everywhere at all times on the ship, catering to your every need and busy cleaning, organizing and stocking when not tending to guests. THE CULNARY EXPERIENCE - 4 STAR The sumptuous meals ( 3 provided daily + snacks) were outstanding. It all starts with their executive chef Andreas Kretschmar. Andy is a native German, who has invested 10's of thousands of Euros into his culinary training. We learned that Andy was hired one year ago and in 6 months went from Sous chef to Executive chef. A highlight of the trip for the culinary aficionados was a galley tour by the executive chef. You can't imagine how much food is cranked out of this small area by a kitchen crew of 11 people. We always had a standard meat, fish or fowl choice every night and specialty entree choices that were the chefs creations. The menu descriptions matched the wonderful flavors of the food. The table wines included in the base tour price were decent, not great. The Wines offered for additional fees, called the Silver Spirits package ( like a restaurant) were awesome. The Karl Pfaffman Dornfelder Red will be a regular at my home now. The desserts were beautifully presented and featured some creative German pastry recipes. Veuve Clicquot and Drappier were top-shelf champagne choices. There were coffee and snack stations on each side of the ship that was always stocked with Muffins and Croissants in the AM and cookies in the PM. Because this was a Rhine river focus, there were several German meals of Pork and Beef tenderloin that were outstanding. With Andy being from Germany, the local culinary nuances jumped on to the plate. THE ENTERTAINMENT - ELEGANT AND SOMETHING FOR EVERYONE There were contests, games and presentations in the evening for amusement and trivia knowledge. Each night there was music in the lounge led by Chris Kralev, a very talented musician and composer who displayed tremendous skill at playing music from different Genres. Our big surprise came after sharing our musical tastes with Chris. On the last night of our cruise, Christian presented my wife and I with a recording of the most beautiful composition that he created especially for us. I am not promising that for every passenger on Viking, but the beautiful memories of this trip will be relived every time we play that song. THE STATEROOMS/CABINS - PERFECTLY APPOINTED STATE-OF THE-ART ACCOMMODATIONS We originally booked a French balcony cabin, which meant that we had a sliding glass door that opened as part of the side of the ship. It was nice so you could smell the fresh air. However, we chose to upgrade for a small fee to a veranda cabin, so we could stand or sit outside. This also gave you a little more space in the room. Don't get me wrong, the room was small 10 X 8, but was perfectly appointed with a lot of storage and many amenities like a fridge and several drawers for your clothes -- even a desk. The bathroom was well-equipped with a small but sufficient shower. I am very tall and still had no problem moving about. There were plenty of reading lights and 2 listening devices called "whispers" so you could turn them on to hear the guides during tours. The bed had extra clearance so you could stow luggage. We had several large pieces and it all fit neatly under the bed. We were never without towels or bath amenities, the mattress was comfortable and the room was well insulated so you did not hear your neighbors. Each day the crew replenished a large bottle of water in your cabin. There were also several outlets 110 and 220 in key locations in the room. One of the most interesting things was that the ship is equipped with a camera for the lounge and the bow so you can watch the journey from your cabin or the daily events briefing if you wanted to rest. This was all broadcast on large flat screen TV in your cabin. There were plenty of entertainment choices and you could connect your IPOD to play music through the system. Every day they delivered the events of the day like a newsletter to your room, so you could plan for the included or optional activities. We briefly saw the mini-suites which had a small living room for relaxing and reading. They looked great, but expect to pay the additional fees for those type of accommodations. THE PEOPLE TOURING - A DELIGHTFUL SURPRISE OF WARM GENEROUS TOURISTS On this Viking cruise I would guess the average age to be around 60-65. This is not a youngsters booze cruise. Viking is dedicated to elegance and luxury at an affordable price. This cruise was for the history buff, the European sightseer, people celebrating special anniversaries and of course, people who really enjoy fine food and great wine. After all, you are traveling through the heart of the German wine country and the side tours included tasting and dinners out. We met several new friends and enjoyed many wonderful nights with them at dinner and in the lounge sipping our favorite beverages. There was no crazy behavior, just sophisticated folks looking for a good time, fine dining and some really engaging conversations. Viking even sponsored one evening where people who cruised multiple times were invited to get together and share memories of past trips and inspire each other to choose new Viking itineraries. Viking is launching several new ships this year, so they can accommodate the demand as the word of their unique experience travels. And it will travel fast. People who experienced Viking for the first time are affectionately referred to as "VV's". Viking Virgins. THE VIKING VALUE - EXCEPTIONAL - CAN'T BE BEAT We are all value conscious consumers in this world of travel options and itineraries. As a well-versed and demanding travel consumer I say that Viking delivers the best travel experience for the money. I have calculated a quick accounting of a one week vacation, that would be comparable to a Viking vacation. Just add up one week at an upscale hotel, 3 quality meals a day, evening Cocktails, Airfare and tours. It will quickly add up to several thousand dollars. Now, add up all the time it took you to plan every detail. This does not take into account that Viking does it all for you for one price. I did not have to think or plan a thing and I am seeing exotic scenery and having daily tours, sometimes even multiple tours in one day. I did not have to hunt for a restaurant. The only stress I had for one week was what entree am I going to choose at my next meal. We made new friends, visited new places, ate scrumptious food, and had someone plan our every move. You can't really put a price on that ( travel agent assistance). Viking has us hooked for life. Check them out at   Read Less
Sail Date: November 2013
We took the Rhine Getaway cruise from Basel to Amsterdam in the Viking Rinda (one of Viking's new ships this year). After many ocean cruises, this was our first river cruise. Overall, we were very pleased with all aspects of the ... Read More
We took the Rhine Getaway cruise from Basel to Amsterdam in the Viking Rinda (one of Viking's new ships this year). After many ocean cruises, this was our first river cruise. Overall, we were very pleased with all aspects of the cruise and Viking. We are an empty nest couple nearing 50. As expected, we found the demographic on board mostly Americans in their 60's and 70's. We were very pleased that there was no strict dress code like the ocean cruises and most people wore jeans all week. Our opinion is that the formal dress codes and men having to wear long sleeve, collared shirts and slacks to dinner every night need to be put in the past. The included tours each day were well organized and the guides very knowledgeable, polite, and sometimes very funny. As others have posted, the most scenic part of the trip is the middle Rhine were most of the castles are located. The food overall was very good, a little better than Princess. As there are only 200 passengers and 45 crew on board, the experience was much more intimate than that of a large ocean cruise ship. Our captain, Attila Toth, and rest of the officers greeted each passenger with a toast at both the welcome and farewell cocktail parties. We purchased the most basic category of cabin (#120) and were satisfied, since you spend very little time in your cabin. There are a few things Viking can improve on we would like to share with prospective guests: The bed pillows were the flattest down we have ever seen. 2 piled on top of each other was barely sufficient. If you have pillow preferences, bring your own. When disembarking the ship, you were given a hand written card with your cabin number, which you handed in when you re-boarded. Implementing a system to swipe your key card like on the ocean cruises would greatly update the process. The house wines included with lunch or dinner were the same all week and could be better. Lunch was served around 12pm and most nights dinner was not served until 7pm, which is a little late for us. Besides cookies and some dry muffins at the self serve coffee bar, there was no food available between lunch and dinner. It would have been nice to have some finger sandwiches or other more substantial snacks during this time. It would be nice to offer more active, longer tours to guests that want to purchase something more. There were 5 additional tours offered during the week, but still short in duration. Unless the passenger demographic changes to include younger couples, this may not change. We would cruise with Viking again and would recommend them to others. Read Less
Sail Date: September 2013
We departed September 21, 2013 on the 14th cruise for this new ship. For a river cruise boat this is the best I have experienced. The ships are well designed and the cabin layout was one of the best. The lounge is well appointed with ... Read More
We departed September 21, 2013 on the 14th cruise for this new ship. For a river cruise boat this is the best I have experienced. The ships are well designed and the cabin layout was one of the best. The lounge is well appointed with floor to ceiling windows that provide a panoramic view, from seating areas that included swivel chairs and sofas. The lighting and music were perfect and made for a very comfortable place to hangout while cruising or in port. The upper deck is huge and comfortable. The dining room was large comfortable and luxurious. The wait staff was attentive and the food as good as I have ever seen on a ship. The theme of panoramic windows continued in the dining room and made for beautiful views while dining We cruised with a gentleman that was very prone to sea sickness and he reported absolutely no problems at any time. The only down side to the cruise was the shore excursions which we found to be too "quick" Mostly walking tours with local guides they tried to see too much too fast which was not for us. I should have anticipated that six stops in six days would only allow for the most cursory visit to anything but we were looking for a cruise and not a tour and that is what we got. We were treated to a sunny warm day for our afternoon on the Middle Rhine and this is some of the most beautiful scenery Beware that internet connectivity was slow and at the busiest times almost unusable. The link is provided via satellite and the baud rate was painful. Read Less
Viking Rinda Ratings
Category Editor Member
Cabins 4.0 4.6
Dining 4.0 4.6
Entertainment 3.0 4.0
Public Rooms 5.0 4.7
Fitness Recreation 1.0 3.5
Family 1.0 3.5
Shore Excursion 4.0 4.6
Enrichment 4.0 4.3
Service 4.0 4.9
Value For Money 3.0 4.4
Rates 4.0 N/A

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