This is a review of the Viking River Cruise from Basel to Amsterdam on the Viking Eir from November 18, 2016 to November 25, 2016. This was my first river cruise after having been on over 20 ocean cruises since the early 1980s, so I was really excited to try cruising in a totally different way. This was part of a promotion that included economy air for only $200 from Phoenix. Even though the Viking Inclusive Air chooses the flights for you, I preferred choosing my own carrier (for frequent flyer miles) and flights and I didn't want wait for for our flight schedules to be sent, which is no later than 75 days prior to departure. By upgrading to Viking Air Plus, which only cost $100, I realized that they had already chosen American Airlines (and OneWorld partner British Airways) and had a routing that I didn't even think of, so it was money well spent only to confirm that what their expert agents did was what I wanted. I only wish that I had stayed a fews days in a hotel upon arrival before boarding the ship, but we wanted to make this as economical a luxury trip as possible. Since Basel doesn't have a major airport, it took 3 flights to get there, with the last one being one of the most turbulent on landing, so we arrived exhausted and shaken up.
The Viking Longship Eir has 3 enclosed levels and then a 4th upper deck. Most of the time was spent in the dining room on the 2nd deck and the lounge on the 3rd deck. It was too cold to hang out on the upper deck, but most of the activity centered around the lounge. It was nice to be able to have a continental breakfast and coffee in the Aquavit Terrace at 6am, which was great considered we were jetlagged and waking up really early.
The reception area was the meeting place for tours and where you would find amazing staff that was always friendly and willing to help with just about anything. The lounge is where evenings started with a cocktail hour and some low-key entertainment including a piano player named Gigi. He was kind of a wallflower and didn't really interact with the guests, like making jokes or anything else. He just played some songs while the passengers mingled and talked about their day. One night they had a classical music trio that was really good, but that stopped all the talking for a little while.
We stayed on the lowest deck, what another passenger lovingly referred to as "the basement" in a Standard cabin, 102. While the size of the cabin itself was about the size of an inside cabin on a traditional ocean cruise, the bathroom was very large and even had a heated floor, which was great for this time of year. The shower pressure was strong and wonderful. There is a small picture window that was high up and recessed. Being short, I had to stand on my toes to really get a good view of the outside. Also, being on the lowest deck, when travelling through locks or when docked, sometimes all you see is a slimy, concrete wall. It was also very noisy the last night on the cruise when docking in Amsterdam, as there was constant banging against this side of the ship. Our travel companions were upgraded to a Veranda Suite on the 3rd deck. This is the way to go on a Viking river cruise as it has a separate sitting area with a balcony and a bedroom with a french balcony. I would stay in one of these next time for sure.
You always hear about how amazing the food is on a Viking River cruise, and I can confirm this to be true. In fact, I spent most of my time on the ship in the dining room. There are tables along the sides by the windows, which then loop around a rectangular buffet area. During breakfast, there is an egg station where the line would get long very quickly for freshly made omelets or eggs of your choice. On the buffet there was scrambled eggs, bacon, sausage and typical American fare along with Scandinavian specialties like smoked fish. I tried their homemade muesli for the first time and now I love it! They also have homemade yogurt and fresh breads. You can also order menu items like their amazing eggs benedict. Lunch and dinner are an event with fresh salads and other inventive small plates as appetizers before choosing the main courses and desserts off the menu. Both included complimentary red or white wine, which was a major disappointment for me. They only served one type of red wine, which was a Malbec. You would think that they would have different wines from at least the region where we were sailing through, but no. I ended up stopping at a wine store in Breisach and bought a few bottles of German red and sparkling wines. Malbec gets old really fast. They should have at least a few to choose from, such as a Merlot, Pinot Noir, or Cabernet for their complementary wines. Therefore, I strongly suggest getting the Silver Spirits package.
In the dining room, the Filipino couple and woman named Amelie (sp?) were always smiling, friendly, and usually really efficient. If you sit at the same table (or thereabouts) you can assure yourself the same servers as they have their own sections. One night, during their Tastes of Germany dinner, the section where we were able to find a table, we had a terrible server from Croatia. Even though I asked for more wine, it never came. And the guy at the next table was literally standing up and holding out his empty cocktail glass trying to get the waiter's attention, to no avail. The lounge area was where service lacked the most. On more than one occasion, we just gave up on waiting for the slowly meandering servers and went to the bar to order our drinks, and even there, one of the bartenders, who happened to be Croatian too, barely gave eye contact or cracked a smile, much less made any kind of efficient effort. Our Romanian stateroom attendant was always prompt to clean our room, as if knowing when we had left. He was always cleaning around the reception or anywhere else late into the evenings. The blond woman at the front desk was stellar as was our Program Director, Renee. Not only was she the cruise director, but she also lead the shore excursions with efficiency, humor, and fun.
ACTIVITIES AND ENTERTAINMENT
Some music and dancing in the lounge in the evenings: meh. Sometimes there were parlor games, but I'm in my late forties and the entertainment seemed more like what you would find in a nursing home. Granted most of the passengers were in their 70s and 80s. But where Viking really shines is for their well-renowned shore excursions. There is at least one included in each port with additional optional excursions for an extra charge. But the included ones were usually top notch, hosted by local guides that were knowledgeable and not boring in the least. From ship to cozy coach to town, it was first class all the way. But after a few days, it became exhausting. This is a cruise for active travelers. I was so happy the one day we just sailed the Rhine with a commentary and watched the world go by. You would think that river cruising would be all about the river, but the ship traveled mostly at night when you are sleeping.
Luckily, the Christmas markets had their opening days in most of the ports we stopped in, starting with Heidelberg. Cologne had the best Christmas market, as there were several, with the largest one next to the gorgeous cathedral. Each market had their own special Gluhwein mug. This is some seriously strong warm red wine spiked with schnapps or liqueur and herbs and spices to help it go down. But on a cold day, this is the perfect accompaniment for walking around the markets. Heidelberg market had the best spaetzle, made with cheese and onions: a must have!
Would I go on a Viking cruise again? Most definitely, but only if I could afford a veranda suite, business class air, a hotel stay beforehand, and a silver spirits package. This takes it way into the luxury, pricey category. I may be more apt to try a different brand at a competitive price on the lower end, if it exists. Or just stick with my ocean cruises. I've looked at Viking Ocean Cruises, but those are exhorbitantly expensive compared to what I am used to, which is affordable luxury. More on that later. I'm sure there is so much more information I could give, and would have done so if given closer to real time than after the fact. But feel free to post any questions, especially if you are considering a Viking River Cruise.