The Rhine is one of the most famous rivers in the world. From its source in Switzerland, the river winds its way into France, where it forms the border with Germany, before continuing into Germany and finally the Netherlands where it reaches the North Sea. I’ve driven the length of the Rhine from the Netherlands to Switzerland, and did the reverse by train. When I received an invitation to embark on a Rhine Getaway with Viking Cruises, I accepted with glee – from the stories I’d heard about these cruises, I knew I was in for a treat!
A Rhine river cruise with Viking Cruises
Viking Cruises operates some of the most luxurious ships on the Rhine with a variety of itineraries. I chose the 8-day Rhine Getaway cruise from Basel to Amsterdam. The package includes lodging, meals and (most) tours.
Arriving at Basel Airport is a unique experience: the airport, situated in France, serves three cities in three countries – Basel in Switzerland, Mulhouse in France and Freiburg in Germany! After passengers collect their bags, they’ll be faced with the choice of exiting right to Switzerland or left to France/Germany!
I was met by a cheery Viking Cruises representative who led me to a waiting Viking Cruises bus, which brought us to Basel where the ship, Viking Mani, was moored. My bags were swiftly loaded onto the bus and the next time I saw them was in my Stateroom on board the ship.
The Viking Mani
I boarded the ship to find a bright and airy, elegantly furnished atrium. There were cosy sitting areas, a small library and shop as well as a corner with several computers (free wifi is also available).
The staff welcomed us with big smiles and the check-in took literally a few minutes. I was led to my Veranda Stateroom on the Upper Deck by the friendly Hotel Manager. The room was compact, with a large, comfortable bed, a writing table, flat-screen television (with a selection of news channels and in-house info, movie and game channels), mini-bar, safe and sufficient closet space.
At one corner of the table, I found two small receiver devices with earphones sitting neatly in the charger – these were used for all guided tours; a handy device indeed. Sliding doors opened out to a private terrace with a table and chairs. The bathroom was equally compact but very well-equipped – I especially liked the heated floor and fog-free mirror. Overall, the room had a contemporary, functional and elegant feel.
I quickly left my room to explore the rest of the ship. The Sun Deck featured a jogging track, putting green, a herb garden, shaded sitting areas and solar panels that help to power the ship. I soon discovered that everything on this deck, from the wheelhouse to the railings, could be lowered flat in order for the ship to pass under bridges (especially when water levels are high).
The front section of the Upper Deck housed the Aquavit Terrace, an informal café with an indoor/outdoor viewing area. Behind the terrace was the large Lounge and Bar, bathed in light streaming through the floor-to-ceiling windows. The Middle Deck housed the ship’s elegant restaurant which also featured floor-to-ceiling windows for optimal viewing.
As the ship started to sail, I noticed how quiet it was. I asked the Captain about this and he proudly replied that this was due to the hybrid engines. Not only were they more eco-friendly, they were much quieter than conventional engines.
The Viking crew
That evening, after a safety drill, the approximately 190 guests were invited to the Lounge for a welcome cocktail reception hosted by the Captain. We were introduced to the ship’s crew by the Captain and the Hotel Manager. The Program Manager then took over for the first of the daily briefings during which the guests were informed about the following day’s program, including logistics and timings.
I had many opportunities to observe the staff at work during my week on board the ship and I was impressed. The multinational crew were friendly and cheerful, and provided top-notch service in a non-intrusive manner. It’s always the small details that matter and this crew excelled in that department. After the first day, the crew knew how I like my coffee, which wines I preferred and above all, my name. Each time we returned from an excursion, the crew (including the Captain) welcomed all the guests with cold towels and refreshments. One day, we returned to find the crew standing in line on the upper deck, holding placards that read “Welcome Home”. On colder days, the crew brought warm blankets and hot chocolate for the guests enjoying the view from the Sun Deck. This high level of service kept guests in good spirits throughout the cruise.
I was especially impressed with the Program Manager who, together with his team, skillfully handled the organisation and logistics of the excursions. Any issues were handled swiftly and efficiently, and his smile and (quirky) sense of humour ensured everyone felt at ease at all times. He also gave insightful and entertaining talks at the Lounge on various topics from the history of Germany and France to Dutch water management prowess.
The Rhine Getaway itinerary took us from Basel in Switzerland to France and Germany and ended in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. Along the way, day tours were organised to beautiful historic towns such as Colmar, Strasbourg, Heidelberg and the UNESCO World Heritage protected windmills of Kinderdijk as well as the largest city along the route, Cologne.
There were also excursions to, amongst others, the lush Black Forest, the Alsace wineries, the imposing Marksburg Castle as well as a local cheese-making farm in the Netherlands. Guests were transported in comfortable buses and local guides were employed to lead the tours.
I was impressed with how well the itinerary was planned – most of the sailing was done at night, leaving plenty of time during the day for guests to go on land excursions. The most beautiful parts of the Rhine such as the stunning Rhine Gorge, with its countless castles, were navigated during the day so guests could enjoy the gorgeous scenery. I’d covered this route by train and road before but it was quickly evident to me: seeing the Rhine river by means of a luxury cruise is way better!
The Basel-Amsterdam itinerary was a bit more packed during the first half of the 8-day cruise, with morning and afternoon excursions each day. The second half of the itinerary was more relaxed; there was plenty of time to just read a book, lounge on the Sun Deck or do some individual exploration.
Food and entertainment on board
Meals were served at the Aquavit Terrace and in the Restaurant. There was a buffet for breakfast and lunch whilst dinner was an a lá carte affair. The meals were of a constantly high quality. I especially loved the salads and the ever-changing menu that reflected the specialties from the regions we sailed through. My favourite though was the steak (which could be ordered every evening): tender, juicy and grilled to perfection!
Guests were kept entertained throughout the cruise with informative talks by local experts, glass-blowing demonstrations, classical music performances, and by the crew who were always in for a laugh.
I had a fabulous time on board and the week just whizzed by. I can definitely recommend this Rhine river cruise for the quality of the service, the incredibly comfortable ship and the seemingly effortless organisation.
Read about my Danube River cruise with Viking Cruises.
Note: I was hosted by Viking Cruises on the Rhine Getaway. As always, all views expressed above are mine, and mine only.