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Viking Rhine Getaway River Cruise – August 2018

Viking Rhine Getaway River Cruise – August 2018

Old Aug 25th, 2018, 07:40 AM
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Viking Rhine Getaway River Cruise – August 2018

After our insane trip last year where we stayed in 7 different hotels in 3 countries over 18 days and returned home completely exhausted, we decided to try something easier this year. We had watched the commercials where people were enjoying drinks sitting outside on the deck of a relatively small boat as they floated past unbelievably gorgeous castles and cities down an unbelievably beautiful river somewhere in Europe. Exactly what we were looking for. So we began the search to see how we could make this happen for us. We had been on a Caribbean ocean cruise about 15 years ago (formal nights, assigned eating time, assigned table, expensive excursions, expensive drinks at the bar, lame entertainment, etc etc etc) and it was not for us. But a river cruise sounded more laid back.

This would be our 10th trip to Europe and on the previous 9 we had planned everything ourselves. We were travelling with the same friends we had traveled with 3 times before and we eventually agreed on the Viking Rhine Getaway (Basel to Amsterdam) extending 2 days before in Lucerne and 2 days after in Amsterdam. For me, the planning part is just about as much fun as the actual trip. It was going to be a whole new adventure to just pick a cruise, some things to do In Lucerne and Amsterdam, a few excursions and that was it. After last year’s crazy trip, our group (late sixties and early seventies) really liked the idea that once we checked our luggage in Atlanta we did not have to deal with it again until we checked in at the Amsterdam airport – all transfers were included.

Living in Atlanta, we are fairly spoiled when it comes to flying. There are direct flights almost everywhere and one of my concerns was what horrendous flight schedules we might end up with. Some friends who had done other package trips to Europe had horror stories of multiple connections on no-name airlines, last minute changes, even some cancelled flights. I found that for $50 per person, I could contact the Viking flight department and they would work with me on the flights. I had researched the direct flights I wanted and when I talked to the Viking flight rep, it took no time at all and we had the flights booked. So far so good.

I was able to slightly satisfy my need for planning by booking a visit to Mount Pilatus in Lucerne and museum tickets in Amsterdam (Anne Frank House, Van Gogh and Rijkmuseum). It seemed like we could easily fill in the rest of our time in these two cities by walking around what I hoped would be interesting areas. We decided to do a couple of additional excursions on the cruise and that was it – a 12 day vacation planned. A big thanks to JulieVikmanis for helping me with this. Your descriptions, insight and impressions were very helpful.

About 4 days before we were scheduled to leave, we received an email from Viking. It said that due to the horrible drought in that part of Europe, there was a chance that some areas of the river would be too low for passage and they might have to figure out alternatives. This was one of the things I was worried about. In my research, I came across some reviews from some very unhappy people describing what they had to do when the water was either too low or too high. Some had to pack up and ride a bus to another boat farther up or down the river. Others had to finish their cruise on a bus because the cruise line did not have enough boats to have spares in these situations. And still others had their trip cut short because the cruise line did not have any extra buses or boats at all. I also found some reviews from some very unhappy people that had paid for a balcony (like we did) but could not use it much when docked because boats were sometimes parked 5 or 6 deep at one dock. They had a very nice view of their neighbor’s balcony 6 inches away. Not the kind of reviews you want to see but there were also a lot of reviews from very happy people too. Paraphrased a little - You pay your money you take your chances.



Day 1 – 8/12 - Overnight flight and first day in Lucerne

Our flight was scheduled to leave at 5:32 PM and arrive at 8:30 AM. As usual our friends came to our house, we had a glass of champagne to celebrate and the limo showed up on time. Because it was Saturday the usually horrible Atlanta traffic was non-existent so we easily arrived at the airport, checked in and headed to One Flew South for our usual pre-flight snack. As on previous trips, we had a good time, good wine and good food. Boarded on time and really appreciated the extra leg room in comfort select (well worth the upgrade cost in our opinion).

Took off on time and settled in for a routine flight.
On every one of the previous 9 flights to Europe, I had taken an ambien right after dinner, slept soundly for about 5 hours and woke up refreshed and ready to go. It did not work this time. I slept some but tossed and turned quite a bit. It turns out none of our group slept well on the flight over. But we arrived in Zurich on time and quickly made it to baggage claim where we met the Viking rep who led us to the bus for the ride to Lucerne. It turns out only 6 of us arriving at this time were doing the Lucerne extension and the bus was huge – one of those huge tour buses. So the 6 of us got on and had an easy ride to Lucerne in a weirdly empty bus.Our rooms were not ready yet and the hotel was very close to the old town so we took a short walk and absolutely loved Lucerne. It was not as crowded as I thought it might be. Both the weather and the scenery were beautiful.

We went back to the hotel and were able to check in. We went to our rooms and our luggage was waiting for us. Nice. We unpacked, walked around the town a little more, climbed to the top of the fortified walls and took a ton of pics looking over the town at dozens of sailboats on the lake. Just gorgeous! We decided to have dinner on the hotel’s rooftop terrace. Again – nice.
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Old Aug 25th, 2018, 08:00 AM
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on for the ride, welcome to a very hot Europe
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Old Aug 25th, 2018, 10:32 AM
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I am so looking forward to more details of your trip. We have been traveling to Europe for 17 yrs. and the crowds have become gigantic in the major sites. Like you, I always do the planning but find that I’m getting tired of it and a river cruise looks quite inviting.

i also have read so many negative reviews so have kind of put it on the back burner. A negative that we encountered was on a day trip to Melk Abbey outside of Vienna. The train there was fine but the 2hr. Danube River cruise on trip’s end left a lot to be desired. Gorgeous weather, a few castles on the hills, but mostly floating slowly along on the “Brown” Danube....I thought the song calls it the “BLUE” Danube. It was not very pretty.

That said, I am really hoping that your Viking River Cruise experience lived up to their advertising. I so want to hear good comments from you. So far it sounds like a trip I would go right to Viking’s site & book. We loved Lucerne & would like to return, and have had Amsterdam on our go to list.

Carry on!
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Old Aug 25th, 2018, 01:40 PM
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Bilbo - I think it might be us causing the high heat. Our last 3 trips to Europe have all had weather temperatures much higher than normal. I had packed some cool weather clothes I didn't even take out of the travel bag.

TPAYT - I'm going to try to go through day by day and describe our adventure. But just in case I poop out half way through or you get bored reading it, I'll give a few impressions here and you can decide if they are helpful to you.

First of all, everything about Viking (the cruise director, the staff, the boat, the food, the room, the flights, the desk agents when you call with questions before the cruise, the transfers, the pre and post cruise hotels, the bar, the decks) - I mean everything was very nice. Wifi was a little spotty in places but I was OK with that - I just retired and wanted to unplug on this trip. The passengers were a nice mix of mostly Americans. We met a lot of different very nice people and are going to stay in contact with several of them. There were a lot more young people than I expected but most of the folks were close to our age. Also this was the first river cruise for a lot of the folks.

If you remember from my other trip reports, we enjoy a nice glass of wine and a few cocktails now and then so after doing some price research, even though you get free wine and beer with meals, we decided to buy the Silver Spirits package. For $150 per person, you get unlimited drinks for the entire cruise and you can order better wine than what they serve for free at meals. I'm not a wine snob but I can tell a good wine from a bad one. Once our waiter accidentally served us a glass of the free red wine at dinner and we were not able to drink it. But they had a lot of reasonably good wine that we were able to enjoy. The Silver Spirits package was very worth it for us. Gin and tonics in the afternoon and after dinner drinks on the deck without having to worry about the cost was great. On the first night we sort of hooked up with the young crowd on the front upper deck and ended up having way too much wine, Baileys and Grand Marnier as we cruised through the locks in the moonlit night. Too much fun and a hangover to go with it. The bartenders remembered us after that first night and they were great. One of them called us her dream team one time as we walked through the bar. Once they know your room number you never have to give it to them again. But I think not many people actually bought this package. Most of the people we met paid by the drink. Enough about the booze.

Dinner is advertised as being from 7 to 9. We thought that meant you could show up between 7 and 9 and get a full dinner. Unfortunately what that really means is dinner starts at 7 and ends at 9. We are not early eaters so some days it was a struggle to get there in time to get a table where the 4 of us could sit together.

We had hoped for a relaxing cruise but it was not to be. We only cruised during the daylight one morning and one other day (and a few late evenings). We also only docked close enough to walk off the boat and visit towns twice. The other times you had to get on a bus and drive to the town We are not usually early risers but if we wanted to have breakfast in time to do any morning excursions we had to get up earlier than we hoped. We were supposed to be able to just get off the boat in Cologne but the low water forced us to dock in an ugly industrial area and take a bus to the city center. This was not Viking's fault but it is a fact of what happened. Only twice did we dock right next to a boat but it was not an issue for us because once the boat was on the other side and the other time it was only for a few hours in the middle of the night.

For us, the biggest factor is the potential for water that is too high or too low. Luckily we had rain in Switzerland the day before we boarded. The cruise director said that day of rain was the only reason the water was barely high enough for us to make it through. He also said we would probably be the last boat to make it to Amsterdam on the Rhine with no problems until they got more rain. At one point when we were dropped off for our Heidelburg excursion, the captain had to back up for 2 miles to get to a place where the water was deep enough to turn the boat around. We met a lady in Amsterdam who had just come on the Danube and she had to switch boats 3 times. She was not happy about it and I don't blame her.

So the problem for us is you have to book too early to be able to know what the water level will be for your cruise. When we booked we did not give water levels much thought but I would recommend doing some serious research. As I said, we were very lucky to make it through with no problems and we had a good time. Hope this helps.
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Old Aug 25th, 2018, 02:44 PM
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I don’t think I’ll ever go on a cruise, but interested in how it goes. We head to Germany in 2 weeks, looking cooler, thank goodness.
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Old Aug 25th, 2018, 05:03 PM
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After having been on a few ocean cruises and not being a fan, I was a bit skeptical of our first river cruise, which we took w/ Viking on the Danube last November. We traveled w/ some close friends, the wife having raved about a Viking river cruise she had previously taken. We were very pleasantly surprised and thoroughly enjoyed this trip. The included tours were very informative, and we also enjoyed a couple of the extra-cost options. There was plenty of time to do your own thing in every port. The small number of travelers made it much easier to make new friends, and we did lots of activities w/ these new friends.

The food on the ship was every bit as good -- and often better -- than what we experienced in the towns we visited. That said, we liked that the emphasis wasn't so much on the food, like it so often is on ocean cruises. The staff was very attentive and a lot of fun, sharing jokes, doing some table-side magic, etc. They would do little favors for us that were unexpected and very much appreciated. We didn't do the Silver Spirits package and were thoroughly happy w/ the wine and spirits provided at no additional cost. Of course, we're not very discriminating in our alcohol choices, lol.

As for the downside, the only one to me was that cruising was usually done at night, so there wasn't much sightseeing to be done from the boat. The one day we passed through the Wachau Valley was beautiful but VERY cold. Fortunately, we did not experience high or low water, but that would certainly have been a bummer and is a risk when river cruising.

We liked the Viking cruise so much that another is planned for next spring. In the meantime, we're going w/ these same friends and another couple to Slovenia and NE Italy this fall. This is a totally planned trip by us and includes significant driving. I'm sure we'll love it, but there's definitely something to be said for having all the travel arrangements made for you. Self-planning is a LOT of work... especially as one gets older.

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Old Aug 26th, 2018, 02:11 AM
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We did a Rhine cruise years back choosing a trip that coincided with wine festivals every afternoon as we progressed along the river, we moved early morning docking at about 11am and Mrs B and I would dash off for an afternoons tasting or bike riding to wine festivals along the way. I am a wine snob and I like German Riesling so all was well, back then the rivers were always full of water (climate change is real) so never a fear of a problem, but the boats were full of 70+ tourists with the ambulance being called every couple of days to take another one away.
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Old Aug 26th, 2018, 05:59 AM
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Adelaidean - Hope it is cooler for you in Germany. We liked Germany a lot more than we thought we would. I think river cruising is like most other things in life. Some people really love it and some people do not. And both are right.

NoleNomad - good to hear from you. All the good things you say about the cruise are exactly the things we really liked about it. On one of our tours the guide said this is only the second time in his life that he has seen this bad of a drought so I guess really low water is very unusual. We want to cruise on the Danube like you did so I'm going to see if I can figure out when water levels are relatively stable. And I would like to find a cruise with more daytime sailing or more docking right at towns that we could just walk off the ship and explore without having to get on a bus. Have fun on your upcoming trip - sounds like your going to some different and interesting places.

Bilbo - Your cruise sounds PERFECT for us. What cruise line did you use? We were not Riesling fans at all until this trip and now we are fans of German Riesling. As long as the ambulance doesn't come for my wife or me I think I will be OK with it.

Last edited by john183; Aug 26th, 2018 at 06:20 AM.
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Old Aug 26th, 2018, 06:52 AM
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Thanks for this. I quickly get bored on boats but am keeping river cruising in reserve for when I get more decrepit. (Thought that had happened last year, but some very expensive pills have me back on the road this fall.) Unfortunately, unusual weather is becoming the norm.
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Old Aug 26th, 2018, 07:06 AM
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Day 2 – 8/13 – More Lucerne and Mount Pilatus

Had a nice included breakfast at the hotel and took a Viking included walking tour of Lucerne. We really liked our guide a LOT. A couple of hours of easy walking around a beautiful little city. She also told us a lot about every day Swiss life. It was interesting to hear about certain mandatory requirements in the education system and the high cost for very small housing. She lives with her husband and 4 kids in an 800 square foot apartment a mile and half bicycle ride from central Lucerne and I think she said she pays about 2500 per month. She told us a lot about the bread culture in Switzerland. Her husband eats about 2 pounds of bread every day and they have different breads for different times of the day. She told a funny story about when she first moved to Switzerland, she sent a healthy snack for her daughter at school. Her daughter brought a note home from the teacher saying she should include bread as part of the snack. She said she never imagined she would be baking bread every single day. There were lots of bakeries with incredible breads on display. And, of course there were lots of chocolate shops.

We finished the walking tour just in time to catch our Viator tour to Mount Pilatus. The weather was a little overcast and rain was predicted for later but we ended up having a great time. Took a bus to a small cable car to a larger cable car to the top. It was quite windy as we walked around and up a little higher. The views were good even though it was not sunny. Had a nice lunch at the hotel’s restaurant with a gorgeous view of snow capped mountains in the distance. We then rode the cog wheel train down and finished the tour with a nice hour-long paddlewheel boat ride around the lake back to Lucerne.

Back to the hotel to freshen up for dinner. We found a nice place on the river and tried some fondue – it was good but not great. I had heard that prices were high in Lucerne and I thought they would probably be no more than other places in Europe – but I was wrong. We did not eat at any high-end restaurants but still paid around 40 Swiss francs for entrees. Back to the hotel and started our evening tradition on this trip of going to the bar and having a Baileys (or 2) before bed.
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Old Aug 26th, 2018, 07:21 AM
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thursdaysd - Your post made me think about a few of the people on our cruise. They were mobilty challenged (some more than others) and I was completely impressed with them. They participated in every walking tour and every ship activity. The tour guides said they would do what they needed to accommodate them but very little accommodation was needed. Very inspirational. My goal is to travel as long as possible in whatever way I need to do it. Better living through chemicals - glad you are back on the go.
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Old Aug 26th, 2018, 07:34 AM
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I think river cruises become more enjoyable when one is a bit older and enjoys not moving hotels every few days. If you want an extra fine river cruise, check out Tauck, a US company that does European rivers. I've tried various companies. They are tops so far for me. No pay extra for all those little extras, that add up.
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Old Aug 26th, 2018, 07:52 AM
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Sue81 - Thanks Sue. I'll check Tauck out.
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Old Aug 26th, 2018, 07:59 AM
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Thanks, John. I don't get here that often, and I hadn't seen any recent posts from you. I was afraid you weren't doing well. I'm happy to see you are!

One other thing about our Viking cruise. We did the Romantic Danube, between Nuremberg and Budapest. We were fortunate enough to catch the beginning of the Christmas markets in Vienna and Budapest, at the end of our cruise. Cold, but great fun... + we had plenty of Glühwein to keep us warm! I highly recommend traveling to these areas at that time of year.

Our Viking cruise next April covers the eastern end of the Danube, from Bucharest to Budapest. We're arriving several days early in Bucharest and renting a car to drive around Romania before getting on the boat. Should be fun.
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Old Aug 26th, 2018, 08:09 AM
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@john183 - that's good to know, and thanks for the good wishes.

@NoleNomad - highly recommend Romania. Interesting - and much cheaper than Switzerland! There's a TR in progress right now or click on my name for my profile for mine.
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Old Aug 26th, 2018, 08:19 AM
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NoleNomad - too funny. Your first sentence is exactly what I was thinking about you. I developed spinal stenosis in late 2016 and after trying almost everything else I finally had surgery earlier this year. It was a 100% success. No pain and my quality of life is back. Should have done it sooner. I also retired this year so I'm ready to travel a lot more now.

My wife's sister and brother in law are doing the Prague, Vienna and Budapest trio next month and I think that might be next on our travel list.
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Old Aug 26th, 2018, 10:40 AM
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thursdaysd -- I'll check out your TR. Thanks!

John -- Before our cruise which began in Nuremberg, we spent a few days in Prague. It's at the top of 'My Favorite Cities' list. Vienna was also great. Budapest was OK, but we had too little time there to really give it a fair shot. As we end there on our upcoming cruise, we'll be able to do it more justice.
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Old Aug 26th, 2018, 04:10 PM
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Enjoying your TR, John183, and looking forward to more. I like the idea of a river cruise but am conflicted by wanting to see places in my own time frame. Maybe someday!
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Old Aug 26th, 2018, 06:14 PM
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Trophywife007 - thanks. I know what you mean about wanting to do things on your own time. Since we rarely docked where we could just walk in to the town, the only way it can work to transfer this many people is to have a bus schedule. There are always pluses and minuses with everything and for me this was a minus but there is just no other way to do it. The places were well worth going to and there was usually enough time to see everything - you just had to do it on a preset timetable.
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Old Aug 26th, 2018, 06:20 PM
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Day 3 – 8/14 – Last day in Lucerne, First day on the boat

Had another nice breakfast at the hotel then put our luggage outside the room. We were not scheduled to leave Lucerne for Basel until about 3:30 so we had most of another day in Lucerne. Lucerne is not all that big and we had already seen a lot of it so we sort of wandered around the pretty streets a little. We walked to the Lion Monument then tried to go in to a church but it was closed for an organ concert that had just started. The church windows were open and we could hear the organ playing Beatles songs – yes Beatles songs. Very weird. We had a drink at a place near the church until the concert was over then visited the very pretty church.

After visiting the church, we found a nice restaurant by the river for lunch. Just as we were ordering, a rain storm quickly popped up and we moved under cover. We had a nice lunch and the rain stopped so we could get back to the hotel. There were about 20 of us going from our hotel to the boat and we left on time at 3:30. As we approached our dock in Basel, with Swiss precision the Viking rep announced that we were 7 minutes away from arrival. I would have said we were about 5 to 10 minutes away but not our rep – it was 7 minutes and she was correct.

Easy to get on the boat and check in at the main desk. We had a regular stateroom with a veranda on the 3rd floor. I have to say it is maybe one of the most efficient uses of space I have ever seen. It kind of reminded me of Goldilocks and the three bears. For what it was designed to do, nothing felt too big and nothing felt too small – it felt just right. Our luggage was delivered and we spent some time unpacking before going to a welcome reception in the lounge where they were serving champagne.

After the reception we went to dinner. Tonight’s special was chateaubriand and it was delicious. We used our Silver Spirits package to get a very nice bottle of red wine (ended up having 2 between the 4 of us) to go with the meal and we really enjoyed it. By this time we had left the dock so we went to the open deck at the front of the boat to watch the sunset and have a drink. I mentioned above that we sort of hooked up with the young crowd the first night and one drink turned in to several. The sunset was gorgeous and after it was dark we went through our first lock. It was actually pretty cool. I’m blaming my hangover on the young crowd. I’m sure they were the instigators of all the Baileys and Grand Marnier that I had to drink. I’m not even sure what time we went to bed. Good lord it was one heck of a first day on the boat.

Last edited by john183; Aug 26th, 2018 at 06:23 PM.
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