Cruising the Rhine River with Viking River Cruises is a popular option for exploring Europe in style. See what we thought about our scenic 12-day Viking Rhine River Cruise from Amsterdam to Basel.
In the grand scheme of things, people can be separated into two categories – cruise people and everyone else. We always placed ourselves in the latter category.
We eschewed cruises as being nice for people who prefer more structure on their vacations and prefer the safety of guided trips with strict itineraries. We prefer immersive experiences that bring us into the heart of a country’s culture.
That being said, we were thrilled when we received an unexpected offer from Viking River Cruise. Needless to say, it was an offer that we couldn’t refuse. This was our chance to try a certain ease of travel and to see what it’s like to experience a trip with guides and planned meals.
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As part of Viking’s generous offer, we were able to select a European riverboat cruise that appealed to us. After pouring over the many options for cruises in Europe outlined on the Viking website and studying the photos and videos, we ended up selecting the Rhineland Discovery cruise.
This 12-day Amsterdam to Basel river cruise starts with two city destinations (Bruges and Amsterdam) before cruising up the Rhine with stops in Rhine River cities like Kinderdijk, Cologne, Koblenz, Rüdesheim, Heidelberg, Strasbourg, Breisach and finally Basel.
Sure, Viking is reputed to have some of the world’s best river cruises and the Viking Rhine river cruise sounds wonderful. But what did we really think? We share our thoughts in the following Viking River Cruise review.
What We Loved about our Viking Rhine River Cruise
Let’s be real. It’s hard to not enjoy a luxury cruise on the Viking Eir, a longboat with 95 staterooms and four decks. Food is plentiful and cooked to order, and the German beer onboard is some of the best in the world. Coffee flows all day long on a Viking river cruise ship, and the crew’s main mission is to make everybody happy.
Visiting Five Countries without Lugging Our Bags
As independent travelers, we lug around our bags – a lot. As a result, we sometimes suffer from tired backs and sore feet.
What a treat it was to not have to worry about luggage for twelve straight days! This may not seem like a big deal, but it was a game-changer for us.
As an extra bonus, we loved unpacking our bags and feeling ‘at home’ during the length of the Viking Rhine River cruise. Since we use packing cubes when we travel, it only took us a few minutes to settle into the room and start enjoying the cruise.
Room with a View and Amenities
We weren’t sure what to expect from the room even though we had looked at various YouTube videos for a sneak preview. Our room turned out to be downright spacious with a comfortable bed, a full range of movies available on-demand and wonderful bathroom products that got replenished on a daily basis. We were pleasantly surprised by the room’s private balcony with a table and chairs for two, which made it feel even more spacious.
True confession – we didn’t use the balcony much once we discovered that the best view in our room was from the bed. It turns out that there’s not much better in life than lying in bed and watching the Rhine current stream gently next to the trees and hills of Western Europe.
We consider ourselves to be low maintenance travelers who don’t need a lot of assistance, but that doesn’t mean that we don’t appreciate excellent service. And that’s exactly what we got from the international crew while cruising the Rhine with Viking.
Empty beer stein? Not for long. Fresh fruit in our cabin? You betcha.
This crew was highly attentive without being intrusive, and it was our pleasure to tip them at the end of the cruise.
Food on our Viking Rhine River Cruise was varied and plentiful.
We appreciated the fancy, multi-course dinners and the big, hearty lunches served in the dining room, though we mostly opted for the simpler, more casual meals available on the Aquavit Terrace. However, we liked breakfast best of all.
The range of breakfast foods ran the gamut from healthy fruit and yogurt to more decadent options. Passing on the menu items, we stuck to the breakfast buffet where we enjoyed cheeses, meats and other regional delicacies.
The one and only thing missing was Nutella, but not for long. The attentive staff was kind enough to share their private Nutella stash with us once they realized we were true fans of the chocolate hazelnut spread.
Viking offers many excursions on its Rhineland Discovery cruise, many of which are at no additional cost for participants. The free Viking tours are good – mostly slow-paced walking/bus tours with lots of information and minimal pressure.
However, the optional excursions are the ones that truly wowed us with their passionate guides and small group format. These tours really offer travelers an intimate chance to experience many of the cultural delights that Europe has to offer.
It may seem like a hardship to spend the extra cash after already plunking down a bunch of dough for the cruise itself, but these are sincere, honest excursions that will detour you from the more touristic itineraries. These were our three favorite excursions:
Cologne’s Beer Culture Dinner Tour
As we learned over dinner at a brauhaus that dates back to 1858, Cologne locals never eat while drinking. They only drink while eating.
Living like locals was not a problem for us during this excursion where we drank an endless number of small glasses of chilled Kölsch beer at no less than four different family-owned pubs each oozing with Köln culture. We even learned how to toast like a local during this fun pub crawl.
We now like to clink the bottom of our glasses and say ‘Prost!’ even though we’re no longer in Cologne. In addition to drinking beer, we also enjoyed soaking up Cologne’s history through this walking tour of the town’s narrow, lively, rebuilt North German streets.
Taste of the Best of Alsace
We were pleased to get our first taste of Strasbourg during this full-day excursion which served as an introduction for our future stay in the fairytale Alsatian city in France.
The informative tour guide from Food and City Tours Strasbourg introduced us to a variety of local fare starting with kugelhopf and continuing with chocolate, cheese, baguettes, wine, flamenkuche and finally pain d’epices, a local pastry similar to what Americans call gingerbread.
Highlight of this excursion? For us, it was the picnic-style lunch at Oenosphère where we sampled excellent local wines from nearby vineyards along with an assortment of amazing French cheeses and charcuterie.
Black Forest Hike & Farm Visit
We pinched ourselves as we ate tasty German food and drank local beer with a view of the Black Forest. Was this real life or a dream?
Viking’s local tour guide took us on a winding journey where we visited old and new farms, hiked up forest trails and drank schnapps in addition to enjoying lunch with a view at a local eating hall. We saw so much that we felt like we were on a Black Forest road trip, if only for the day.
This excursion took us away from the standard cuckoo clock shops and allowed us to see the magnificent, lush, green Schwarzwald hills along with a glimpse into the day-to-day struggles of old German culture. We also enjoyed visiting a modern German farm complete with its on-site schnapps distillery not to mention adorable goats and cows.
The Rhine Itself
We mainly chose the Rhineland Discovery cruise for the opportunity to cruise the Rhine and see Rhine River castles sprinkled along its verdant shore. Despite some cloudy and rainy weather, the view did not disappoint.
Seriously, the castles just kept coming as we lounged on the wide-open sundeck of our longship.
We toasted and drank hearty, dark Kostrizer beers as we sailed along the Middle Rhine River streaming by the famous Lorelei rock and oh-so-many castles. We were so inspired by the fabulous views and tasty beers that we plan to return and spend one week in the Rhine Valley so that we can explore the area more fully.
What We Didn’t Love So Much
As full-time travelers and influencers, we usually travel slowly with a week or even a month in each location. Though it was great to hit five countries in twelve days, it wasn’t so great to have to leave each one so quickly.
Sometimes, when traveling in Europe, we just like to slow down, plant ourselves at an outdoor cafe and soak in the atmosphere. Some people like this quicker style of travel, but it’s not our preferred approach.
As internet junkies, it was a bit stressful to have spotty internet during our Viking Rhine getaway. Though out of the ship’s control and likely common on river cruises on the Rhine, the internet (or lack thereof) was a bit of a bummer.
Final Thoughts on Our Viking Rhine River Cruise
Clearly, we loved a lot more about the Rhine cruise than we didn’t love. Does this mean that we’ve crossed over to being cruise people? Well, we wouldn’t go that far, but we’re very open to taking another cruise to help us with that transition.
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About the Authors
Daryl & Mindi Hirsch
Saveur Magazine’s BEST TRAVEL BLOG award winners Daryl and Mindi Hirsch share their culinary travel experiences and recipes on the 2foodtrippers website and YouTube. The married Food and Travel content creators live in Lisbon, Portugal.
Original Publication Date: October 6, 2016