We had an amazing river cruise on the Rhine in October 2013. We traveled from Amsterdam, the Netherlands to Basel, Switzerland in a seven day journey. I have copied below a day by day account of our itinerary with a few pictures to highlight our adventures. Before that here are some comments on our river cruise in general (with my wife Anne giving her opinions, too):
We sailed on one of the new Viking Longships – the Viking Forseti. Our stateroom was just above the water level with a French Balcony – we could open the sliding glass window to the open air. I really liked having a french balcony – on my only other river cruise I was at the lowest level with a small window. It is worth the extra dollars to get the french balcony! At 120 square feet our stateroom was the smallest one we have had on a cruise, but I thought the space was efficiently organized. Both our suitcases fit under the bed and there was ample room in the closet.
“I liked being on the main floor, it was very convenient. I loved the large window wall. I think being at eye level with the water provided an excellent view. The stateroom is very small, and takes some effort to organize belongings.”
A pleasant surprise for me was how good the food was – excellent! At lunch and dinner in the main restaurant we had several entrees each night to choose from. A smaller buffet was available in the ship’s lounge for passengers wanting a quick meal. Beer, wine and/or soft drinks were included at lunch and dinner for no extra charge. There was a breakfast buffet each morning with an omelete station for fresh egg entrees. I thought the food overall was better than what I have had on a typical ocean cruise.
“The food was very good. The lunch and dinner menus always seemed to have a nice variety of options. The quality was high. It was nice to have the ‘always available’ menu for the few times the daily specials did not appeal to me.”
Viking provided entertainment in the lounge each evening, and educational lectures at different days on the cruise. Our ship’s program director also would give an overview of the next day’s activities and tours just before dinner each night. While the entertainment was on a much smaller scale than your typical ocean cruise I thought it was fine – especially the nights when Viking brought on local musicians from the towns we were visiting to perform for us.
“There was a good mix of performers and educational lectures. The locals that came onto the ship were very professional, both for entertainment and education.”
Viking featured a shore excursion each day at no extra cost. These excursions were typically three to four hours in length and were very good. Optional excursions for the later afternoon or evening were available for purchase. We only purchased one optional excursion – a world war II history tour that you can see in our pictures below. I felt complementary excursions and guides were excellent in each port we visited.
“I did enjoy all of the shore excursions. Each guide was knowledgeable and friendly. They were a nice length, which allowed for returning to the ship if you wanted to eat lunch on the ship.”
Overall river cruise experience
This was my second river cruise, the other sailed on the Danube (read my review of my Danube cruise here). I found the Rhine very different than a Danube cruise and equally enjoyable. On the Rhine we saw more castles and cathedrals on our tours when compared to the Danube. I noticed we went through less river locks on the Rhine (which can be noisy at times). I so much enjoyed this cruise that I am anxious to sail on river cruises elsewhere – there are so many itineraries to explore. It opens up exciting new possibilities to someone like me who is a veteran ocean cruiser but relatively new to river cruising (I’ve been on 26 ocean cruises around the world).
Anne, this being her first river cruise, says:
“I loved the experience of the river cruise. It doesn’t influence my love of ocean cruising, though. Both are unique and I would have no problem doing either one. I loved the small size of the river cruise vessel. There is not the amount of walking you must do on an ocean cruise to get to different parts of the ship.
The entertainment, while excellent, was still limited in scope and variety. You do have many more entertainment options on an ocean cruise liner. I enjoyed being so close to the water and disembarking so close to the city center of each area we visited. The opposite is true on an ocean cruise, where you are so far from the ocean and usually have to be transferred to the city area for shore excursions.”
Day to day itinerary
Every night of the cruise I posted on a personal blog and on Facebook a summary of our activities for friends and family back home. I have copied these notes below.
Would you like to explore this different type of cruising? We can help! Contact us for more information or a price quote on a river cruise.
Day 1 – Amsterdam
We arrived in Holland early Saturday morning on our overnight ferry from Harwich, UK. We forgot to account for the one hour time difference (Holland is one hour ahead of London) but fortunately we awoke earlier than planned so it wasn’t a problem. We exited the ferry, boarded a train to Rotterdam adjacent to the Ferry terminal, and then switched to another train to Amsterdam.
The train to Amsterdam was packed, as passengers stood shoulder to shoulder. We found seats near an exit and hoped everything would work out as we took the one hour ride from Rotterdam.
Not to worry as we were soon sipping champagne in the lounge of our river cruise ship – the beautiful Viking Forseti. Different than the many ocean cruises we have sailed on, the Forseti accomodated 190 passengers (much smaller than the ocean ships that hold up to 6,000). We were able to board immediately and we were told by the staff “we’ll find you when your room is ready”. That would never happen on an ocean cruise! The smaller size of a river cruise boat allows for a more personalized experience with the crew and other passengers.
The view from our stateroom is wonderful! We overlooked the Amsterdam harbor this day, and we look forward to the scenery we’ll encounter as we sail down the Rhine the next 7 days.
One benefit of a river cruise, compared to most ocean cruises, is that on a river cruise many shore excursions are included in the price! We took a hour and a half walking tour through the heart of Amsterdam with this guide. It was very interesting as he told us about the history and current life of the city.
The canals of Amsterdam reminded us of our visit to Venice a few years ago. We were here only a few hours, so we’ll save some of the attractions for a future visit (like the Anne Frank house and Van Gogh museum).
Tonight we set sail down the Rhine to Kinderdijk, described as “one of the most picturesque and iconic sights in all of Holland” in the Viking cruise newsletter. Stay tuned for our pictures, which are sure to feature many windmills!
Day 2 – Windmills at Kinderdijk
It was a cold, windy morning in Holland where we visited Kinderdijk and its windmills.
Our Dutch guide Margriet led us on a two hour tour. We learned of the inner workings of windmills. Most of the windmills we saw this day dated back to the 1700’s. We went inside one windmill surprised to find it once was a family home.
The series of windmills dotting the Holland countryside was impressive!
We got a better look at our Viking river cruise ship from the outside. Our stateroom is on the lower deck near the aft.
We returned to the ship shortly before lunch and resumed our journey down the Rhine. We visited the top observation deck for the first time. Though cold we enjoyed watching the sights go by as we sailed by farms, small towns, and under bridges.
The captain, at age 26 the youngest in the Viking fleet, explained to us the operation of the “wheelhouse” on the top deck. Our Viking Forseti ship, only six months old, had all the latest technology to make this a safe and smooth trip.
Day 3 – Cologne, Germany
Our river cruise brought us to Cologne this morning – Germany’s fourth largest city.
As we approached Cologne the massive cathedral dominated the skyline.
Before venturing out into the city we had breakfast in our ship’s dining room. We try to get a window table each time. The food at all meals has been excellent!
Our German tour guide led us on a two hour walking tour of Cologne – a city originally founded by the Romans 2000 years ago. We learned that 90% of Cologne was destroyed by allied bombs in World War II. Most of the old buildings we saw were reconstructions built after the war.
The highlight of our walking tour was a visit to the Cologne Cathedral – the largest Gothic church in Germany and tallest Roman Catholic cathedral in the world. The church took 600 years to build dating back to 1248.
The cathedral was just as impressive on the inside. While the church was bombed during the war some of the original sections were undamaged. Services are still held here – we exited the church before the 12 noon gathering.
We are skipping the optional tour Viking is offering, a night time walking tour of Cologne’s beer halls, instead preferring to remain onboard for another delicious dinner, a lecture on the European Union, and a concert of classic German music. Our ship remains docked until 11 pm, when we set sail for Koblenz, Germany.
Day 4 – Marksburg Castle, Cruising the Rhine
Today we visited one of the best preserved fortresses overlooking the Rhine – Marksburg Castle.
The castle, high on a hill, is over 700 years old. Its location made it difficult for attackers to reach it over the years, hence it had far less damage than other Rhine castles.
A display of medieval armament in one of the castle’s many rooms was interesting.
The view from the Marksburg Castle was equally spectacular. We saw our Viking Forseti ship sail by far below – we met up with the ship by bus down river after the tour.
In the afternoon we sailed down the Rhine with amazing scenery all around us. We came upon castle after castle as our ship’s program director explained the historical significance of each fortress.
In the evening we were treated to a concert by local musicians. Anne was surprisingly pulled from the audience for the finale to lead a conga line. She was a good sport about it and led a group of our fellow travelers around the ship’s lounge. No conga for me – I stayed on the outside taking pictures of the festivities!
Day 5 – Heidelberg and Speyer
I opened our stateroom window to see this sunrise over the Rhine River. We were ready for another day of seeing castles, German towns, and cathedrals!
Most of the day we were in Heidelberg. Here we are shown in front of the old castle, “considered the most magnificent castle ruin in Germany” according to our guide.
Our Viking guide, a graduate student at a local university, was excellent in telling us the history of the castle. It took over 400 years to build and shows a mix of Gothic and Renaissance styles.
Back in the castle’s heyday this barrel held 58,000 gallons of wine.
The views from the castle of the city of Heidelberg below were also spectacular.
After touring the castle we explored the city of Heidelberg on our own for two hours. Perhaps time for a German lunch? Nahh, we are not big fans of German cuisine. Instead we found a little Italian cafe and split a delicious Margherita pizza.
We returned to our river boat in the mid afternoon and resumed sailing down the Rhine. We arrived at Speyer, Germany shortly before dinner. We took a 40 minute stroll to the town’s square where we saw this magnificent cathedral – one of the largest we’ve seen on this trip.
Day 6 – Strasbourg, France
It was a cold, misty morning as we arrived in Kehl, Germany. We were soon on a tour bus to Stasbourg, France – a short distance away on the other side of the Rhine River.
Our Viking tour guide took us on a two hour walking tour of this old city – founded by the Romans in 12 B.C. We noticed immediately the architectural style was French, not German. Stasbourg is a center for European politics – home to the European Council and European Parliament.
Dominating the city center was the huge Notre Dame Cathedral. This gothic structure dates back to 1176 and took over 300 years to build. On a trip where we have seen many churches, Notre Dame was one of the most impressive. At 466 feet high it was the tallest building in the Christian world from the 15th through 19th century (only the Great Pyramid in Egypt was higher).
The inside of the cathedral was impressive. Our guide said one of the stain glass windows here dated back to the 13th century. Other stain glass windows, added in the 16th century, displayed scenes from the Gospels. In that era many peasants could not read or write, so the display of Jesus’ life through stain glass pictures was a way of getting the Bible’s message to the poor.
The church’s intricate clock dates back to the 1800’s. We watched characters move on the clock on the half hour. We just missed the main attraction – a procession of 18 inch high figures of Christ and the Apostles which occurs once at midday while a life-size cock crows thrice.
We returned to Germany and our ship docked on the Rhine in the early afternoon. The weather had cleared up by then. Anne took a pleasant walk along the riverfront in the late afternoon while I took a midday nap.
Day 7 – Black Forest & WWII Memories
We heard a flapping noise outside our stateroom early in the morning – what could it be?
We were so close we could touch them!
After a hearty breakfast we went on a four hour tour of Germany’s Black Forest. We enjoyed a hike in the mountains.
Though the temperatures were cold it felt good to hike in nature after seeing castles and cathedrals on other days of our trip.
At the end of our hike we returned to a small shopping area featuring this huge cuckoo clock. The intricate workings of the clock were fascinating to see.
In the afternoon we took another tour – this one on world war II action in the Black Forest area. Our guide was extremely knowledgeable in telling us the military history of the area. The story of Audie Murphy was featured – we saw the spot where Murphy fought off a German battalion for 90 minutes single-handedly.
The Allies victory at the Colmar Pocket was a key turning point in the war. As we stood on a mountain top near a French military cemetary our guide pointed out the military maneuvers of the day and how the Nazis were forced out of this region.
We had a memorable river cruise overall, and this last day in the Black Forest was one of the highlights!