Koblenz, Germany — It had been awhile since I was on a Viking Longship, and although I had attended christening events and even did a couple of weeklong cruises on Viking a few years ago, too much time had passed since I’d stepped on a Longship. Last Sunday that changed when I boarded Viking Hlin in Basel for a seven-night “Rhine Getaway” voyage to Amsterdam.
After a quick transfer from Basel’s airport to the St. Johann docks, I felt good stepping into the familiar light-filled reception area of Viking Hlin (named for the goddess of protection in Norse mythology).
All 46 of the Longships showcase virtually the same features, so I was immediately familiar with my surroundings. I checked in, which took all of two minutes, and was escorted to my category A Veranda Stateroom, number 333, situated on the starboard side.
After a near-sleepless night across the Atlantic, I was glad to be settled into the cozy confines of my 205-square-foot stateroom (the measurement includes the balcony). Tired but excited about the days ahead on the Rhine, I showered and afterward fell into bed for a quick sleep to refresh myself before awakening for the evening activities.
At 9 p.m. we sailed from Basel for the weeklong voyage that would visit Breisach (Germany), Strasbourg (France), Rudesheim, Koblenz and Cologne (all in Germany), and Kinderdijk (a village in the Netherlands known for its iconic windmills). Our trip will conclude Sunday morning in Amsterdam.
Along the way, there would be many side trips, to the Black Forest and Colmar on one day, a trip to Heidelberg on another, visits to castles and dinners ashore. Complimentary excursions were offered at each stop along the way and about a dozen optional tours were offered, ranging in price from €49 per person to €189, the latter being a full-day excursion called Taste the Best of Alsace (Viking Hlin’s program director, Candi Finkelstein, told me that this was the number one rated tour on the Rhine Getaway itinerary).
Fast forward: Midway through the voyage, as I sat in the Aquavit Lounge on a gorgeous day while Viking Hlin was docked alongside the Deutsches Eck in Koblenz, I realized something I had nearly forgotten – and that was just how good Viking is. I, and others on this voyage, have found much to appreciate about Viking Hlin, the attractive decor of the ship, its comfortable environs and an eager-to-please-and-seemingly happy-to-be-there staff.
I could give many shout outs, but here are a few: to our ever-smiling bartenders, Ivan from Macedonia and Krista, whose heritage is a mix of Spanish and Asian; to Armin, our enthusiastic Austrian hotel manager; and to Annie, who kept my stateroom clean and crisp and who always garnished my fruit tray with my favorite berries each day. It’s a nice touch that Viking offers a small plate of fruit in each stateroom, replenished daily.
Before heaping more praise on the Longships, though, I have a few quibbles that I’ll get out of the way. Here they are: Viking would do well to bring bicycles on board and to offer those for complimentary use. Why are there no bikes on Viking’s Longships? There’s no room to store bicycles. Viking optimized space on the Longships to focus on public spaces and to add more staterooms and suites than you’ll find on other river cruisers.
I missed having an on-board gym too. True, the gyms are tiny on river cruisers that have them, but still, I appreciate the option to get the blood pumping for a few minutes by exercising while cruising.
Those are my only quibbles, and with some creativity (such as walking the sundeck track to get your exercise or using the onboard concierge to book bikes ashore for you), active travelers can get past those grumbles to experience what are arguably the most gorgeous ships on the rivers. Because Viking’s focus was on public spaces and accommodations, the Longships boast features that few, if any, other river cruisers can claim, notably, two-room suites and my favorite front-of-ship-space, the Aquavit Terrace.
Aquavit Terrace, Al Fresco, Viking Style
Characterized by classic, minimalistic Nordic decor, the Longships were originally designed by the Norwegian-born chairman of Viking River Cruises, Torstein Hagen, and Olso-based naval architects Yran and Storbraaten. Imagine the interior of a Volvo S90, all done up with leather seats and birch wood inlays, and you’ll have a sense of the interiors of the Longships.
Viking’s vessels feature light palettes throughout complemented by a plethora of panes of illuminating glass, lots of wood, herb gardens, marble slabs and mossy stones flanking the attractive wooden staircases, along with leather furniture and beautiful fabrics, including wall linens that appear to be hand-stitched.
Look closely, in fact, and you’ll see that Viking paid a lot of attention to detail. Few people who I spoke with noticed until I had mentioned the leather hand-railing along the staircase. The feel of the leather adds to the sense of a stylish, yet simple, elegance, and at a hefty cost to Viking. The leather has to be replaced every two years.
Not one feature on the Longships could be described as over-the-top. Nothing jolts the senses or the eyes. To the contrary, the setting is pleasing, aesthetically and otherwise. The overall sensation that I feel on the Longships is a soothing one. I get something akin to a sense of serenity, particularly during moments when the play of light conspires to create works of art, such as in the reception area, where glass doors and the glass ceiling bathes the interior with sunlight.
Will the pleasing palette make a difference in your river cruise? Hard to say. What may, however, is the Aquavit Terrace. No front-of-ship public space on a European river cruiser comes close to matching the Aquavit Terrace. While on most river cruise vessels, the outdoor space at the front of the lounge is tight and obstructed by anchors and other marine equipment, Viking’s Longships are free of such distractions.
The Aquavit Terrace features an enlarged area of indoor/outdoor space that is as gorgeous as it is unobstructed. The bow is nearly squared off with the anchor spindles and other equipment hidden beneath the decking. The result is something like a platform that extends within about two feet of the front edge of the ship. Teak rocking chairs, with cushions, are placed behind a plexiglass barrier that breaks the wind while providing views of the river and the landscape of Europe along the river. It is a seemingly small feature but one that looms large on sunny days on the river. Pull up a chair. The Aquavit Terrace is the perfect place to pitch camp for a morning, afternoon or evening of scenic sailing.
The Aquavit Terrace is also used as an optional dining venue to the main restaurant one deck below. Today in Koblenz, for example, continental breakfast is offered from 6 a.m. until 11 a.m., a light, a buffet-style lunch is offered at noon, and a light dinner, featuring Norwegian salmon, along with salads and other items, is offered at 7 p.m. As in the restaurant, wine and beer are served at no charge during lunch and dinner.
Affordable Luxury, Quality Through And Through
Viking River Cruises (and Viking Oceans) boast a Norwegian heritage. That, and Viking mythology, play a strong role in the fleet’s makeup and decor. The Longships emphasize what Viking execs refer to as “affordable luxury.” Many of the luxury components are in the details.
On most river cruisers, for example, you’ll see soft drinks, sodas and tonics served from fountain dispensers or from plastic bottles. Not so on Viking’s Longships. You’ll find glass bottles of Coke, Diet Coke, Coke Zero, sodas and tonics. In fact, when it comes to tonic, Viking serves a gourmet brand known as Fever Tree. Torstein Hagen is a fan of gin and Fever Tree tonic, and I get the feeling that he would not have anything on his beloved Longships that we would not himself appreciate, which brings me to the Silver Spirit Beverage Package.
At €300 per cabin, double occupancy, the cost of Viking’s all-inclusive beverage package may seem steep at first glance, but it can be quite a value when you consider the quality of the beverages offered. Are you a Scotch drinker? Then you may know of Highland Park Ragnvald, which goes for more than $500 a bottle on the internet sites I looked at. Yet on Viking, you can enjoy as many glasses as you like of the single malt Scotch whiskey as part of your Silver Spirit Beverage Package. Without the package, a 4 cl shot of Ragnvald goes for €22.
Let’s do the math. My cruise spans eight days. For the purposes of imbibing, let’s knock it back to seven days. That is to say that yes, I might belly up to the bar on embarkation day for a premium drink but it’s not likely that I will parch my thirst with alcohol on the morning of disembarkation. €150 divided by seven days comes to about €21.50 per day. That’s one heck of a bargain when you consider the costs and quality of the beverages on the menu.
In the coming weeks, I’ll be talking more about Viking’s affordable luxury. My experience so far this week on Viking Hlin, however, has reassured me that those cruising with Viking should come away with the feeling of having received a good value vacation on what may just be the most stylish ships on the rivers.
Add to that Hagen’s penchant for quality, which manifests itself throughout the Longships, and Viking’s focus to deliver “affordable luxury,” apparent in such surprising small touches as heated bathroom floors in the staterooms, and what you have is a match made, well, in Valhalla. And that, as any good Viking would know, is the Norse version of heaven. It couldn’t get any better than that.
Want to go? Viking’s 8-day Rhine Getaway cruise begins at $1,699 per person, with air incentives priced from $295 per person. But that lead-in price is for a December 29 sailing from Basel to Amsterdam in the lowest category stateroom, measuring 150 square feet. Category A staterooms like the one I had price out on the same sailing at $2,199 per person with air from $295 per person. Rates during the peak month of September for a Category A are $4,049 per person, based on double occupancy.
For the purposes of this review, I was a guest of Viking River Cruises. My cruise and onboard expenses were covered by Viking, as was a portion of my airfare. Viking River Cruises is also one of River Cruise Advisor’s sponsors.
Robin L Bence says
How long will the boat be docked at each port on the European river cruises? Looking at river cruises for our 30th anniversary and am curious if they are short like the carribean cruises or much longer. Thank you
Carol Weaver says
No bike. No problem. We picked up bikes for a minimal cost when we were in the cities.
I am going on this getaway in November, and sadly, they no longer dock right in Koblenz but below Marksburg Castle in Brabauch. When I went on the Grand Tour, they bused us there and picked us up there by the boat. I am so sad. I loved just walking off the boat near the confluence of the Mosel and Rhine River. Now, if I want to go into the city, I have to take public transport for 29 minutes or a taxi for 17 minutes. If they say they stop in Koblenz, they should stop in Koblenz!
I loved our food on our Grand Tour! The wine was great, and I never had the spirits so did not get the package.
Ralph Grizzle says
Thanks for letting us know Carol.
Terry Strahm says
Searching for excursions recommendations and ran across your sites. I noted that you stayed extra days in Amsterdam and Basel on one of your cruises. We are during pre cruise two day in Lucerne and two days post cruise in Amsterdam while on the Rhine Getaway with Viking. Any recommendations of excursions or must see sights in those cities? Thanks in advance!
Dianne Slotnick says
How is the food on Viking and what is the quality of wine served at lunch and dinner?
Ralph Grizzle says
I traveled with my neighbors, and we all agreed that Viking’s food and the quality of wine was very good. It’s not what you would find on Crystal River Cruises, but we were quite happy with the offerings at breakfast, lunch and dinner, including the wines. One thing we really enjoyed, the fresh Norwegian salmon served during dinners at Aquavit – as well as during breakfast. So while it may not be high gourmet, the food was equivalent to what I have had on most of Viking’s competitors. It is my understanding that Tauck and Crystal spend quite a bit more on food.
Jolynn Wiesinger Haven says
I too am a fan of Viking. I’ve been on two cruises with them (Tulips and Windmills from Amsterdam and rhe Elbe River from Berlin to Prague) and have been very impressed with their food, service, and overall quality. Love the audio boxes and home visits they offer on excursions. I’ll be on the Portugal River of Gold cruise with a group of clients this October and can’t wait.
You didn’t mention the quality of those port excursions that were included, were they good, bad, or just mediocre? How about the cabins at the stern of the vessel, knowing that the floor plan is the same as other cabins but would they be less quiet and have more/intense feeling of vibration as a result of the vessel movement?
Ralph Grizzle says
Excursions are in next week’s post, with a list of must-do and can skip. I didn’t get into the stern cabins so I can’t comment on those. Thanks for writing!
Carol Mole McKee says
When you say this: “There’s no room to store bicycles. Viking optimized space on the Longships to focus on public spaces and to add more staterooms and suites than you’ll find on other river cruisers” what you really mean is that Viking chooses to cram more passengers onto it ships by far than any other river cruise line. All River Cruise boats are the same size reguardless of which line we are discussing . They would just rather put more paying passengers on them provide benefits such as bikes. And of course they have to pay for the thousands of pounds worth all the direct marketing they put into everybody’s mailbox every year. You shouldn’t make Viking out to be something that it isn’t. This is not a luxury river cruise line, rather it is a mass market river cruise line.
I believe one’s experiences on a river cruise are very subjective. Everyone enjoys and appreciates a cruise in their personal way. It also may have something to do with the company you choose for your first cruise. It it is successful, why chose another cruise line, unless your company does not offer cruises on a particular river or area. Viking is by far the most booked, they have the most ships, etc they even have their own docks. So they must be doing something right. Ever, the contrarian, I booked our first cruise with Uniworld, and have never been disappointed. In fact we are taking their Amsterdam to Basel cruise in July, We are also staying a few extra days in Amsterdam and Basel. Tried this last summer and it worked very well. Unworld’s service is amazing. Last summer we were in France and both our ships were half full due to the terrorism attacks. We had a great time and many French folks thanked us for coming.
Ralph Grizzle says
Bravo! Well said … and constructive. Thank you!
Recently returned from a Danube River cruise with Avalon Waterways on the ship Panorama, from Vienna to Passau – and then on to Munich — and was I impressed! The food was amazing, the service was incredible. As for bikes — yes, they had those on board for interested patrons. Also many umbrellas, and walking poles, too. I liked the ability to have full dinner or to choose lighter fare one level up in an intimate tasting menu. As it turned out, I loved the bed facing the water, I could see life along the shore changing just above our toes. Lastly, the layout of the room and triple panel glass door made it very spacious. Highly recommended, we want to do the Rhine cruise next similar to yours in this article.
Ralph Grizzle says
Sounds like my experience on Avalon. Did you see From Amsterdam To Paris On An Avalon Waterways’ Active Discovery Cruise https://www.rivercruiseadvisor.com/2017/04/active-discovery-rhine/
Randall Higinbotham says
No mention of food service or quality ???
Ralph Grizzle says
That is coming in a future post. 1500 words was about all I wanted to cover in this post. But, I will say that for my tastes both the food quality – in the Aquavit Terrace and in the restaurant – was terrific. A few examples: I’ve rarely seen as many fresh berries – raspberries, blueberries, strawberries – on a breakfast buffet aboard a river cruiser. Norwegian salmon was served at breakfast and for dinner in the Aquavit Lounge. Lunches and dinners were good, and the staff, I thought, was outstanding. Seemed happy to be there and professional.