To recap a little, I love cruises for how great they are as flights or tasters for different regions. Of course you don’t get the same experience as staying in one place for a more substantial amount of time, however, for people like me that want to go everywhere they can at least once, you really can’t beat it. With that though, I’m a little embarrassed to say that taking the concept off of the ocean and onto a river was not something I got on my own. Joe and I were actually on a cruise through the Mediterranean when the idea was mentioned. We were talking with one of our colleagues who had just taken a Viking river cruise over the Rhine. They said it was one of the best trips they’d ever taken. So, naturally, we had to go.
Looking into the options, it was a little overwhelming narrowing down to even a couple of choices for where we wanted to go. It was like an entire world opened up (a little dramatic, but it was pretty awesome). I’d never really thought of a river cruise beyond the Mississippi paddleboats I’d ridden on field trips as a kid, and it turned out there were a TON available. Should we take the Roof of the World cruise from Beijing to Shanghai? Maybe a trek through Egypt going up the Nile and back again? In the end, we let factors like what we could fit into our schedule determine where to go, which is perfect because everything looked so amazing IS don’t know how else we could have decided. Our cruise: the Grand European Tour, 15 days from Budapest to Amsterdam.
- Days 1 & 2 – Budapest, Hungary
- Days 3 & 4 – Vienna, Austria
- Day 5 – Melk, Austria
- Day 6 – Passau, Germany
- Day 7 – Regensburg, Germany
- Day 8 – Nuremberg, Germany
- Day 9 – Bamberg, Germany
- Day 10 – Würzburg, Germany
- Day 11 – Wertheim, Germany
- Day 12 – Koblenz, Germany
- Day 13 – Cologne, Germany
- Day 14 – Kinderkijk, The Netherlands
- Day 15 – Amsterdam, The Netherlands
- Days 16 & 17 – Amsterdam, The Netherlands (on our own)
There really wasn’t one part of the trip that we didn’t completely love. The first thing we noticed (unsurprisingly) was the size of our ship, the Viking Longship Vili. As we would be traversing over rivers and not seas, it was considerably smaller than what we were used to. While this fact didn’t really affect things like the size of our cabin, it did mean there were far fewer of them. Only ninety-five, to be exact. As it turns out, we found this can be a good thing. In regards to our fellow passengers and the crew, I think I can say with confidence that this was the most intimate trip we’ve ever taken.
Joe and I had gotten used to being pretty much anonymous on these kinds of trips, but by the end of this one, we were on a first-name basis with just about everyone. And everyone was completely lovely. This was a pretty long trip, so it makes sense that the two of us were about the age of the kids or grandkids of the other passengers on the ship (with an exception or two, of course). I have to say, the conversations we had were easily the most interesting collection we’ve experienced on a trip.
While we’re on the topic of the human element, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the AMAZING staff onboard. Everyone knew your name, they were always happy to see you (and I think it was actually genuine across the board, otherwise they were a phenomenal group of actors ;), they were extremely helpful, and you never had to look far to find someone. Everything else about the trip was excellent, and I’m still sure it wouldn’t have been nearly as good without them.
I had mentioned before that the ship was much smaller due to things that come with river cruising like having to fit through a series of locks (and there were a TON, and they were awesome). The intimate vibe this resulted in wasn’t just due to the fewer number of cabins, but common areas and amenities as well. But before you go thinking this is a bad thing, let me tell you that it also turned out to be an aspect we really enjoyed. Let me help you understand by breaking down a typical day.
After getting ready in the morning, our first stop was over in the dining hall for some breakfast. The selection here was amazing, by the way. In the mood for some smoked salmon with onion, capers, and cream cheese? They’ve got that. How about an omelet made right in front of you? Yup. Or maybe a regional specialty for wherever you happened to be docked that day? That too. Sorry, food makes me really excited.
ANYWAY! After breakfast, it was time to head off on one of the excellent excursions they had that day. They always had free options, and all of them were fantastic. You can check out the slides above to see what we opted for. While they all varied in terms of activity level and time off the ship, they all somehow still felt completely perfect in regards to both. I’ve definitely been on an excursion or two that tries to do too much in one day and you end up a little, ugh, we’ll say peeved by the time you get back. But, no, never on this trip.
When we got back we’d grab lunch (that is, on one of the few days that we didn’t have sausage, potato salad, sauerkraut, and beer in town) then see what was going on around the ship. Typically, we’d be able to catch our wonderful cruise director, Stein, giving a presentation or two relevant to our current or next stop. These ranged in topic from Viennese coffee to the Dutch masters, and all were perfectly educational and entertaining. Right up my alley, anyway. After that, it was generally relaxation time until a cocktail hour before dinner—with the exception of the nights where there were second excursions—and then some kind of music, games, or entertainment to finish the evening.
Why We Loved It
Now, if you’re familiar with cruising, you might have caught what made this particular one so special. But just in case you didn’t/for everyone else, let me break it down for you: There are tons of different kinds of cruises out there that fit just about any kind of vibe you’re looking for. Often, there’s so much going on that you get a kind of FOMO, even with a full dance card. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been on these cruises too and they’re always a blast. But what I wouldn’t typically say about them is that they’re relaxing. And that’s exactly what I loved so much about our Viking river cruise.
Everything was so beautifully calm, and you were given plenty of opportunities to enjoy it. It was almost like a staycation except for, you know, the fact that you were on a gorgeous river peppered with castles, and waking up in a different storybook town almost every morning. Also, no guilt about not using your time for catching up on the spring cleaning.
I’d have to say our first experience on a river cruise was a complete success. We got to travel and we got to unwind, somehow at the same time. We don’t have another one with them on the books just yet, but fingers crossed it won’t be too long. They’ve recently added a trip that includes South America, with a jaunt into the mouth of the Amazon. Just sayin’…