This is only the second cruise ever for my wife and me - our first was a brief ocean cruise from Florida to Bahamas on another major line, and we were not overly impressed. For years, though, we always wanted to try a river cruise, and after years on Viking's mailing list, we decided to take the plunge. We are so glad we did - we thoroughly enjoyed the experience. We took the Grand European Tour, a 15-day river voyage down the Danube and Rhine from Budapest to Amsterdam, and every aspect of our trip was enjoyable. Each port of call was a fascinating visit, including Vienna, Nuremburg, Cologne, and some less well-known cities and towns such as Melk and Wertheim. We visited 12 cities for at least a day each. (Amsterdam was our disembarkation point so we only saw it from the shuttlle bus to the airport.) Each stop had a tour included as part of the package, as well as a few optional tours for an additional fee. (The only optional tours we took were the evening concert in Vienna and the wine country tour in the Moselle Valley.) Our guides were all excellent, but we were particularly impressed with our guides in Regensburg and Wertheim, who gave us a "Jewish history" tour. Also, since we are both in our late 60's and my wife was nursing a sore knee and recovering from a rib injury, we appreciated and sometimes took advantage of the "gentle tour" options.
The cruise experience was everything we hoped for and more. If you are expecting an over-the-top experience like on some ocean cruises, you may be disappointed. You won't find wall-to-wall 24-hour buffets, Broadway-style musical reviews, "formal nights", noisy casinos, infiinty pools or mini-water parks. What you will find is a quieter, more low-key experience. The boat is only four decks, three of which have staterooms and suites, and accommodates less than 200 passengers. Delicious food, including international cuisine, is served three times a day, either buffet-style or table service. Meals include soft drinks and beer or house wine. You can pay for an optional "silver spirits" package which provides unlimited beverages, but we didn't choose this because we are not big drinkers.There is nightly entertainment in the Aquavit Lounge - the "house band" was a talented duo on guitar and piano, and on two evenings some talented local classical singers and musicians came to serenade us. We also welcomed a funny, fascinating and informative local glassblower, and enjoyed a Beatles sing-along night, as well as trivia and game nights (our team won the trivia contest). My wife also celebrated a birthday on board - the staff brought her a delicious little cake and sang to her, and we returned to the stateroom to find a birthday card and balloons on our bed. We met many very nice fellow passengers, most of whom were in our age range, and most American, though some were from Canada, Australia, and other countries.
The staff was, without exception, courteous, friendly, and very attentive, from the reception desk to the restaurant, lounge and staterooms. And one couldn't ask for a better cruise director than David - very organized, informative and personable. Our voyage was smooth and scenic, with lovely towns, castles, churches and vineyards along the way. (We found the system of canals and locks along the rivers and the way they operated to be almost as fascinating as the scenery along the banks). The best views could be found from the top sundeck, although access was limited at times because we traveled under some rather low bridges. We were worried early on that due to low water on the rivers, there was a chance we might have to disembark for part of the tour and be transported by bus, but Mother Nature was kind to us, and despite a hot, dry summer in Europe, there was enough recent rain to eliminate that possiblity. Our weather was generally quite good - a bit hot at the beginning, but more temperate through the rest of the trip with only two days we would describe as rainy.
We had the standard (basic) stateroom on the first deck - no veranda or balcony, just a port window at water level, so our view was a bit limited. This was not a problem because there were several locations on board for great views, particularly the top sundeck. Our stateroom was small, as expected, but very comfortable - our queen-size bed was just the right firmness for us, and the room was intelligently designed to provide plenty of space for our clothing, belongings and luggage. There was a closet and drawers, a safe for valuables, desk and chair, mini-fridge, large-screen HDTV, and a small but well-supplied bathroom. Our only complaint might be that we would have liked a little more choice of channels and movies on the TV. Also, on a future cruise we might consider a slightly larger room - one with at least a French balcony and small sitting area.