A cruise enthusiast might be tempted to compare a river cruise to an ocean cruise. Of course, this is like trying to compare the experience of driving a Corvette to that of a Ferrari. While both are sports cars and both are very fast, the experiences are quite different. One thing is obvious: there are places that a river can take you that the ocean simply cannot. Rivers were the super highways of Europe (and most other countries) until the 1900’s. Trade and commerce were only possible because of barges that moved massive amounts of goods along the river. Towns and cities sprang up all along the rivers of the world because access to water meant access to fishing, import and export. Some of the most charming destinations in Europe are accessible by river.
|Chris and Rickee with Viking Danube in the background in Basel, Switzerland.|
One company that has seized an opportunity to transport interested travelers to these gems of the river is Viking River Cruises. The company operates 25 river cruise vessels making it the largest river cruise operator in Europe. Our cruise aboard Viking Danube was to begin in Basel, Switzerland and take us up the Rhine River to Amsterdam with a brief side trip up the Moselle River in Germany.
Our journey begins as many others with the dreaded flight from Dallas-Fort Worth to Basel, Switzerland. Two Viking River Cruises representatives met us at the Basel airport as soon as we cleared Swiss customs, which was an incredibly easy process. Miraculously, all checked luggage arrived in spite of enduring four separate flights on three airlines. Within minutes, we were being whisked to meet the ship on Viking River Cruises’ chartered bus.
Approaching the Viking Danube docked at Basel is anything but awe-inspiring. Looking sort of like a ‘real’ cruise ship that someone stepped on and flattened, the ship is 360 feet long and only 54 feet wide (beam). Embarkation is simply walking on board and showing the receptionists your ticket and passport. There are no lines to stand in and before you know it, you have your room key. The process could not be more efficient.
|The Sun Deck is expansive and offers plenty of room to relax and watch the river pass by.|
There are three passenger decks serving a total of 150 guests. You board the ship on Deck 2 forward in the reception area. Go forward from reception and you are in the Viking Lounge. A stairway in reception leads down to the dining room on Deck 1. Traversing aft from reception you will find a hallway with Category B staterooms and a staircase leading up to Deck 3 where Category A staterooms are lined up. At the end of Deck 3, there is a small library and a fitness room with a sauna, whirlpool and even a tanning bed. There is a single elevator which runs from Deck 1 through Deck 3. There are a few Category C staterooms located on Deck 1. All staterooms are ‘river view’, or outside cabins. Category A and B are identical in size and configuration (A are located on Deck 3 while B are located on Deck 2) and have large windows while Category C have much smaller windows.
|Dress Code. Dress onboard these ships is casual. Even the formal nights will find many wearing nothing more than dress shirts and slacks.|
Accommodations are admittedly small but efficient for a 12-night journey on the Rhine. The ship builder has done a relatively good job of utilizing 154 sq. ft. of space with maximum efficiency. The window is at least 6 feet wide and 4 feet tall (Cat A & B) and offers you dramatic vistas of German landscape even while you are stretched out on your bed. The bed is a king which can be separated into 2 twins on request. Pillows and bedding are very comfortable. In fact, the mattress is as comfortable as any you will find anywhere. You might be surprised to find individual duvets. Pillows are soft down but firmer pillows are available with a call to the front desk. The room has a deep window ledge which we quickly filled with items that won’t fit in the small closet. Closet space can be tight if you bring clothes for 12 days, so pack light or plan to leave some items folded in your suitcase and stowed under the bed. The bathroom is a decent size with a shower stall, large sink and glass shelves to use for your personal toiletries. Viking River Cruises provides complimentary shampoo, soap and body lotion.
|The Viking Lounge is the center of activity during sailing days and in the evenings.|
The main public areas of the Viking Danube where everyone congregates are the Viking Lounge on Deck 2 and the Sun Deck on Deck 4 (topside). The Viking Lounge is large enough to hold every guest on the ship. There is a full service bar serving beer, wine and mixed drinks. Drink prices are comparable with other cruise lines and hotel bars. You will pay € 4,00* for a beer or a Scotch and water. A Coca-Cola, however, will set you back a whopping € 2,40 ($2.75 US) so you may want to pick up a few cans in ports along the way to keep in your cabin. Even at peak periods, the bar service provided on Viking Danube was efficient. Even though it is not mentioned anywhere on the menu, a special request for cheese and crackers was met with a nice platter of Brie, Pepper and Goat cheeses with crackers. No charge.
|If you plan to exchange US currency for Euros or Swiss Francs, you should shop around to get the best exchange and commission rates. Viking River Cruises will exchange money onboard, but you will pay a 10% commission. On our trip, US $200 would only get you € 165 and change. You may want to ask your travel agent if they offer currency exchange before you leave. Local ATM's in Europe offer the best exchange rates using your bank ATM card and no commission.|
The Sun Deck is basically the roof of the boat. The Wheelhouse (Bridge) is located forward behind which you will find a covered seating area about 30 feet long. Behind the covered area is the rest of the boat’s roof area which is wide open and full of tables with chairs and also lounge chairs. This area never feels crowded and makes a great place to watch the castles and vineyards of Europe float by. On calm days, this is also a perfect place to sit and relax, read a good book, or even take a brief nap. There is no bar service on the Sun Deck but occasionally you will see a bar waiter cleaning up and if you request a drink, it will be delivered with a smile. Viking River Cruises seems to be fairly liberal in their liquor policy so you can probably get away with bringing aboard that bottle of German or French wine you purchased in town and enjoying it with friends.
The smoking policy on board is very friendly to non-smokers. There is no smoking allowed in any rooms. Smoking is permitted in a small area on the starboard side of the vessel outside the lobby doors. There are no ashtrays anywhere on the ship, even in the Viking Lounge!
|Smooth Sailing – There is no need to worry about sea sickness on a river cruise. These ships offer a rock-solid ride with almost no detectable motion. Engine and mechanical noise is also minimal.|
Viking River Cruises has divided its market into English and non-English speaking cruises. Therefore, everyone on board your cruise will speak English and most likely be American or Canadian. Other Viking River Cruises ships that serve the European and Asian populations are not sold in the U.S. What this policy lacks in providing ethnic diversity, it makes up for in ease of communication. Guests are therefore not required to sit through endless announcements in multiple languages. Even though the crew is primarily European, they all speak impeccable English.
The ‘typical’ guest on our sailing was American, married and probably had grand children. At 47, I felt like one of the youngest aboard. There were a handful of “30 somethings” aboard and even one couple celebrating their honeymoon! River cruises tend to attract a more mature clientele due to the lack of glitzy entertainment, casino and rigorous activities.
River cruising is all about the destinations, not the ship itself. These vessels are designed to move you down (or up) a river from one historic location to another efficiently and comfortably. The ship does not ‘get in the way’ of the destination. This type of cruise offers the opportunity to visit quaint villages located way off the beaten tourist track, something not possible for a large cruise ship.
|Marcus is your excellent host for dining aboard Viking Danube.|
Viking Danube offers guests an Early Riser coffee and Danish in the Viking Lounge between 6:00am and 6:30am each morning (times vary from day to day). The coffee here is from one of those instant injection machines. It is drinkable, but not as good as the coffee in the dining room. A breakfast buffet is served in the dining room from 7:00am until 9:00am. Eggs cooked to order (omelets, poached, over easy, etc.) are available upon request. Lunch is typically served from noon until 2:00pm in the dining room and each day the menu will feature a salad bar, a choice of 2 soups, 2 entrees and 2 desserts. An abbreviated lunch buffet is also served in the Viking Lounge. Dinner is served between 7:00pm and 7:30pm each evening. The dinner menu features a choice of 2 salads/appetizers, 2 soups, 2 entrees (one of which is always fish) and 2 desserts. The overall quality of the food served onboard ranges from average to good with no real standouts other than some of the dessert offerings. The pastries were excellent. Even though you won’t go hungry on a Viking River Cruise, you will probably welcome the opportunity to sample regional cuisine at one of the local restaurants when in port.
|Pack umbrellas! You never know when it will rain in Europe in the summer. We ended up having to buy 3 umbrellas in port to get 2 that worked. Viking River Cruises does not make umbrellas available so remember to bring your own!|
One of the best features of a Viking River Cruise is that excursions are included in the cruise fare. Virtually every port visited featured a bus tour, a walking tour, or both. In some cities there are additional offerings which are optional and do cost extra. All of the tours we attended were very well-conducted by knowledgeable local guides. The inclusion of excursions dramatically increases the value of a Viking River Cruise experience. Getting on and off of the ship is extremely easy. Just drop your room key off at the reception desk on your way out (so they know that you are off the vessel) and walk off. There are no long lines and no crowds. Since the ship usually docks right in town, you may only be minutes from local restaurants, bars, museums, parks, shops and other points of interest.
|Gitomir entertains in the Viking Lounge each evening. On select evenings, local entertainers were brought onboard to entertain.|
After a busy day of touring quaint villages, castles and walking through cobblestone streets guests are welcomed back aboard Viking Danube to enjoy dinner served in the main dining room. There is a single seating at 7:00pm (7:30pm on some days) but guests can sit wherever they wish and dine with whomever they wish. The dining room has tables set for 6 or 8 guests. There are no tables for 2 or 4. Service in the dining room is efficient and friendly. After dinner, guests may choose to enjoy a drink in the Viking Lounge and dance to the music of Gitomir, the ship's sole entertainer.
|Nuno is one of the ship's 3 bartenders who keeps the drinks and the smiles going strong in the Viking Lounge.|
Everyone will appreciate the level of service and friendliness of the staff and crew. Even though there are only 38 crew to serve 150 guests, the quality of service is extremely good. As with most small vessels, a smaller crew seems to exude the feeling of an extended family. Everyone is smiling and seems to really enjoy their job. That can only result in a good cruising experience for Viking River Cruises guests.
What Do Others Say?
Virtually everyone we visited with during our 12-day cruise gave a thumbs up to the Viking River experience. Many of our new friends have been on several Viking River cruises in the past and plan to do more in the future. The typical guests were married retired couples and have cruised on both ocean and river cruises. One guest we visited with had been on 55 cruises, 14 of which were river cruises.
|Important Notice. Entertainment and Activities - You will notice that we only awarded 1 star for both entertainment and activities. These categories are judged comparatively to other cruise ships which are typically larger and offer a variety of entertainment and activity options. A Viking River Cruise focuses more on excursions than on activities and entertainment. Therefore, this rating should not be considered a 'negative' but a reflection of the entertainment and activities offered as compared to other cruise ships.|
Thumbs Up/Thumbs Down
Viking River Cruises is a wonderful destination-oriented vacation product. Anyone wanting a departure from a traditional way to see Europe should consider one of these river cruises. You can visit small, quaint villages as well as a few larger cities and only have to unpack your luggage once!
|Janka (pronounced ‘yawn-ka’) is one of the excellent cruise staff who will accompany you on shore excursions, provide assistance at the reception desk and will invite you to her an early-morning stretching class before breakfast! P.S. she also LOVES spicy Chinese food.|
Cruise Manager, Yvette Storm – Yvette is a hard working Dutch-born lady who seems to be in three different places at once. Everywhere you look she is working to make everyone's trip enjoyable. Yvette also conducted a wonderful narrative of the castles as we sailed the middle Rhine.
Smooth Sailing – The Viking Danube is smooth as silk as it sails up or down the Rhine. Virtually no motion at all.
Mattress & Bedding – The most comfortable mattress we have ever slept on at sea (or in this case, 'river').
German Brunch – One day we enjoyed an elaborate traditional German brunch on the Sun Deck with Bratwurst, Beer, Sauerkraut, Bockworst and potato salad. Wünderbar!
Water & Coffee – The water served in the dining room is clean and fresh and free from chlorine. The coffee served in the dining room is also fresh-brewed and very good.
Pastries – The pastry chef really outdid himself with an excellent selection of pastries at breakfast and a wonderful demonstration of Apple Strudel.
Excursions – All of the ship's excursions we experienced were handled extremely well. Good, English-speaking guides, nice coaches, etc.
Sun Deck – A great place to watch the scenic views of the Rhine and Moselle go by. Plenty of room and non-smoking!
Liquor Policy – Enjoying a local bottle of wine purchased ashore was not a problem on our cruise. The bar staff were more than willing to uncork our wine purchase and provide an ice bucket if necessary at no charge.
Smoking Policy – As non-smokers we appreciate the no smoking allowed policy in all public areas.
Shower – Water in shower would intermittently go from hot to cold and would sometimes shut off altogether for up to 30 seconds before returning.
Bathroom – There is a nice big sink, but there are two large glass shelves directly above the sink that you invariably would whack your head on when bending over the sink to wash your face.
|Overall. This is a comfortable and cost-effective way to see small, quaint villages that line the rivers of Europe. The scenery is spectacular and the mood is sedate and relaxing.|
* € is the symbol representing the Euro. At the time of this review one Euro equals approx. $1.15 US.
If you have any questions about our Viking Danube cruise through the Rhine and Moselle rivers, please feel free to email us firstname.lastname@example.org.