My husband & I just got home from our Viking Christmas Rhine Cruise. We're experienced travelers in our 60s who used to do most of our European travel by train, limit our itinerary to 3 cities at most & stay at least 2 nights ... Read More
My husband & I just got home from our Viking Christmas Rhine Cruise. We're experienced travelers in our 60s who used to do most of our European travel by train, limit our itinerary to 3 cities at most & stay at least 2 nights in each city to minimize packing & unpacking. However now that we're older my husband wants to take more cruises because the tour companies handle luggage & airport transfers for us. This was our 1st Viking cruise. (A yr & a half ago we took a Tauck French Art cruise. The price for our Viking cruise was much less than the Tauck cruise.) Overall our Viking cruise was enjoyable & went smoothly, but there were a few things that could have been improved.
We took a 3 day Brugges, Belgium extention, which began when we landed in Brussels. Unfortunately no one was at the airport when we arrived to take us to Brugges. We waited 45 mins. & the driver eventually showed up, said he was in a traffic jam due to rain & apologized. When we arrived at our hotel, the Duke's Palace (a real Medieval palace in the center of Brugges) at 11 am. they said our room wouldn't be ready until 3 pm. They had a rigid policy & refused to let us go on a waiting list if a room became available. We were exhausted from our flight, but we knew of a nearby reastaurant, Lizzies that serves excellent waffles, so we had lunch. Then we returned to the hotel lobby around 12 noon & met up with 3 other couples from our tour. We got acquainted & then commiserated about having to wait so long for our rooms. Eventually all 4 couples fell asleep in the hotel lobby on the sofas & armchairs. In all other respects the hotel was very nice including their bar & restaurant.
Finally at around 2:45 pm 4 rms became available all at once. The hotel clerk tried to give us a room opposite an elevator, but the desk manager eventually found us a new room. It was nice with copies of old Flemish portraits & had a hi-tech bathroom with a huge shower. So we fell asleep, caught up with our jet lag then had dinner nearby later. The 2nd day an excellent guide took us on a walking tour of Brugges & the following was a free day. The last day we were loaded on a bus with an amusing guide who told us all about Belguim & Holland.
We arrived in Amsterdam at the Bragi around 5 pm, so we didn't get to do any Amsterdam sightseeing, but we were tired, so it didn't matter. The weather was unseasonably warm, in the 40s & down around the 30s for the rest of the cruise, except when we were in the Black Forest on Christmas Day when there was a pretty snowfall. The passengers were a mixture of people on their 1st European trip & travel veterans. The majority were in their 60s, but there were a few college-aged, some as old as their 80s & a few disabled people traveling with family members. (Viking does a excellent job of accomodating for the elderly & disabled.) I would guess that most passengers were middle & upper-middle class with a good number of teachers, college professors, ex-military & civil servants.
Since the theme of the cruise was Christmas Markets we visted cities with markets & took walking tours of Cologne, Heidelburg, Strasbourg & an optional tour to Colmar. Along the way we saw castles on the Rhine. Viking offered optional tour groups for slower walkers & photograhers. There were other tours & attractions as well, but jet lag & short, dark days made me feel lazy & require an afternoon nap, so I took a pass on some of the scheduled afternoon events. At night there was a fantastic pianist, Emil who could play just about any request. On Christmas Eve there was a sing-a-long of Christmas music & some people got up & danced.
All our meals were provided on the boat, which was convenient, helped save money & the time required to figure out where to eat while ashore. At breakfast they served a buffet with all sorts of sausage, cheese, fruit, potatos, breads, veggies etc. plus omlettes & French Toast. At lunch there was a choice of soup, cooked dishes & a fantastic salad bar. There was also a casual dining restaurant in the bar with soup, sandwiches & a less extensive salad bar. At lunch & dinner there was always nice dessert choices. There was a free coffee bar with cocoa, espresso & afternoon cookies. Dinner was a multi-course, more formal event. Many fellow passengers raved about the refreshments at the Christmas Markets, such as Gluwein but I was more focused on chocolate & marzipan. Most passengers we spoke with agreed that the food was somewhat bland, became repetitive by the end of the cruise & was often not hot enough. The wine was good, but they kept serving the same red & white with each dinner. Some variety would have been nice.
I think the Christmas tour is more of what I would describe as a "beginners" tour--more low-stress for people who are timid about mixing in with real Europeans, but it was great for people who like to sit on the boat & watch the scenery. Life on the boat is like living in a North American bubble & I felt cut off from real Europeans, except for the Viking staff. I love art & had to break away from the tour & go on my own at one point, so perhaps this wasn't the best cruise for me. I think I'd do better on a specialist art tour, but If you just want some jolly Christmas fun & a chance to make some new friends it was great. Read Less