Viking Cruise Unforgettable

Beautiful Scenery, Excellent Service & So Much More

You’ve seen the ads: a sleek, white vessel threading the Rhine, flanked by fairy-tale castles. My family had never done a river cruise, and this looked tempting. As a Viking virgin, I was ready to test the waters of one of Europe’s major rivers.

These trips are perfect for those who don’t want to unpack from city to city. We sailed primarily at night and docked at destinations in the daytime. At each stop, there was an included tour—mostly walking—with other options for an additional price. Viking associates were with us from our landing to our departure, chauffeuring us to the airport and making sure we knew where to check-in.

Pre- and post-cruise stops are available (extra charge), and we opted to begin our trip with three nights on Lake Como. We were met at the Milan airport and driven to Moltrasio, a few miles north of Como, and taken to our hotel, where we met our local guide.

Our room at the Grand Hotel Imperiale was wonderful—spacious and comfortable and with a balcony. We could hear church bells along with singing birds.

Tours on this part of our trip included a tour of Como, complete with a funicular ride to Brunate, above the town, for a stunning view of Como, and a tour of Lake Como.

The lake is lined with elegant villas, including George Clooney’s pied-a-terre. The shoreline at his home is heavily planted for privacy, so no glimpse of the actual house.

Our lake tour ended with a stop in Bellagio, where we had the option of taking our private boat back to the hotel or staying and taking one of the many boats that link towns on the lake. We had enough time on our own to sample local cuisine and indulge in two of our favorite things: pizza and gelato.

From Moltrasio, a bus, complete with a guide who provided narration, took us to Basel, Switzerland, where we would start our actual cruise.

From the minute we stepped on the ship, we were greeted and treated like royalty. Our room was compact and comfortable, with all sorts of conveniences: electric plugs for American and European appliances, an under-counter nightlight in the bathroom, convenient mirrors, ample storage space and more. And the shower was first-rate.

Best of all, we had a French balcony (I use the term “balcony” loosely). We had floor-to-ceiling windows and a sliding glass door. Clear, waist-high panels kept us from falling into the water. Veranda staterooms actually have balconies with chairs. The weather was cool enough that we wouldn’t have been sitting outside anyway, but we could get fresh air and a good view from our room.

Meals were a real treat. For breakfast, the buffet was extensive and included an omelet station, or we could order from a menu—or any combination thereof! The lunch and dinner menus had three sections. One part, which remained constant, listed selections for the unadventurous: steak, hamburger, hot dog, roast chicken, and the like. Other sections gave suggestions for local dishes (French when we were in Strasbourg, German selections for most of the trip) and options that changed daily.

I have never experienced such individualized service as we had in the dining room. Our daughter has dining challenges; she’s a vegetarian who doesn’t like most vegetables. Each night, the maitre d’ would give her the menus for the next day and she could pick, mix and choose anything she wanted.

Guides in each city were knowledgeable and everyone had their own listening device. Our first stop was in Breisach, Germany. The included outing was a bus trip into the Black Forest, where we enjoyed the scenery, then learned about making cuckoo clocks and Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte (Black Forest Cherry Cake). Afternoon in port, we were free to explore Breisach with its medieval cathedral.

There were 172 passengers on our ship, the Mani, and most people went on the included tours. We were divided into groups, with one group, the “leisure” group (a kind name for those of us who were slower). Other stops included Strasbourg, Speyer, Rudesheim, Koblenz, Cologne and Amsterdam.

Every day brought something special. Often there were special presentations: one afternoon, a cooking demonstration—Chef Karl Heinz Zwanzleitner made a French/German pizza, flammkuchen; another afternoon Bar Chef Maria Komarica taught us how to make Rudesheimer Espresso—think coffee, brandy and whipped cream— followed by a German tea (which looked a lot like a British tea with sweets and finger sandwiches). We were usually too pooped for after-dinner entertainment, but made an exception the night a Koblenz string quartet provided the music.

My favorite things? Even though several days were chilly and/or rainy, beautiful flowers grew everywhere.

The highlight? The day we traveled down the Middle Rhine from Rudesheim to Koblenz. The sun was out; the sky was blue; and there was one castle after another on both banks of the river. I had to be on deck to take pictures, but it was cold. Attendants brought out blankets, hot chocolate and a bit of something stronger to add to the cocoa.

Other special moments included hearing the majestic organ in the Cologne cathedral and taking a vintage barge ride in Kinderdijk (a UNESCO World Heritage Site) to see windmills in the Netherlands.

The only complaint I could think of about the cruise was that the scheduled tours were usually first thing in the morning. I’m a morning person, so it didn’t bother me, but other family members would have liked a later start. The advantage of the early tours is that it gives you more time to explore on your own.

Here are some things you need to know about Viking cruises. They’re for adults only. Staterooms accommodate two people. If you’re traveling solo, you’ll pay full price.

Be aware that the price you see in a brochure is just the beginning. You’ll need to make decisions about travel insurance. If airfare is included, you’ll have to decide whether to pay extra to have control over your flight schedule. Do you want to take special shore excursions? There will be tips for city guides and bus drivers (minimal), and much larger gratuities for the ship’s crew.

Also, I would never book a room on the lowest level; windows there are high because much of that part of the ship is below water level. The great view from the upper deck rooms is worth the extra money.

A travel professional who is knowledgeable about cruises will help you sort through all the paperwork and keep you informed on payment deadlines. And they can tell you if you need to renew your passport before you go.

Viking ads are just an appetizer. We took the trip and got the whole banquet.

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