A European river cruise has been on my travel bucket list since college. The parents of one of my closest friends took a river cruise and ever since they described the experience, it’s been on my travel wish list. When I received an invitation to embark on a Rhine Getaway with Viking Cruises, I felt like I had won the lottery. Then, when I found out I’d be on one of their celebrated Christmas market cruises, I knew this would be a trip of a lifetime. All Rhine River cruises explore the wonderful medieval castles and villages along the river, but the Christmas cruise also features the charming Christmas markets in Germany and France.
The Christmas Cruise
The Viking Rhine Getaway river cruise can be booked at any time of year. In December the focus is almost entirely on the regions’ Christmas markets as nearly every town and city has a market of some kind.
Another plus to visiting in winter versus summer is there are fewer tourists. While some markets can be very busy, especially on weekends, you’ll find there are many locals and fewer tourists.
The Christmas markets vary in size. Breisach, has one small market, where on the other hand in Cologne and Strasbourg you’ll find numerous markets located all over the city. Each city has a unique take on the market and you’ll find that souvenirs, ornaments, food, decorations, and mulled wine will differ in each location. The cities are not only festive but truly magical. You’ll find twinkle lights, decorated trees and a joyous feeling of holiday excitement in the air.
Viking Rhine River Cruise – The Itinerary
The Rhine is one of the most famous rivers in the world. The river begins in the southeastern Swiss Alps and winds its way into France, where it forms the border with Germany and continues into Germany and then the Netherlands where it reaches the North Sea.
The Rhine River cruise can be booked from Basel, Switzerland to Amsterdam, The Netherlands or Amsterdam to Basel. The Rhine River cruise I took started in Basel, Switzerland and included stops in; Breisach, Heidelberg, Koblenz, Cologne (all in Germany), Strasbourg (France,) Kinderdijk (Netherlands) and ended in Amsterdam (Netherlands).
The Viking Longship Eir has 95 staterooms, one main dining room and a smaller dining terrace, bar/lounge, open air upper deck and many small nooks for lounging and hanging out. There are three main levels for cruisers; the main level (gangway) where you’ll find the concierge, the main dining room and staterooms. The next level up you’ll find the bar/lounge, the Aquavit terrace, an outside small deck and more staterooms. The upper deck is the third level where guests can relax and enjoy the beautiful scenery if the weather is cooperating.
- 95 comfortable outside staterooms (2 Explorer Suites, 7 Veranda Suites, 39 Veranda Staterooms, 22 French Balcony Staterooms, 25 Standard Staterooms)
- All suites feature two rooms with a veranda off the living room and a French balcony in the bedroom
- Sun deck with 360-degree views
- Aquavit Terrace with a revolutionary indoor/outdoor viewing area at the bow of the ship and grills for al fresco dining
- Observation Lounge and bar with floor-to-ceiling glass doors
- Restaurant with floor-to-ceiling windows for panoramic views
- Library corner and onboard boutique
- Elevator from Middle to Upper Deck
- In-Room 40″ flat-panel Sony TV with infotainment system featuring movies on demand plus CNBC, CNN, National Geographic
One of the aspects of the Viking Cruise I loved the most is that a daily excursion is included with your cruise. The excursions are also optional, so if you’d prefer to explore on your own, this is an available alternative. Most days, the ship will dock in one location, but there will be a few days the ship will dock in one port in the morning and another in the afternoon. When this occurs, a bus from the morning excursion will then deliver you to the new port.
Depending on the distance of the excursion you will either travel by bus or foot. Passengers are divided into groups and you’ll have a local guide who will take you by bus or foot to explore the daily excursion.
In addition to the daily “included excursions” there are usually between one and three for an additional charge. These excursions could be visiting a nearby town or focused on a local tour or a culinary experience. Most excursions are between three and seven hours, but the average excursion is four hours.
Day 1: Basel Walking Tour
Day 2: Black Forest Tour
Day 3: Strasbourg City Tour
Day 4: Heidelberg Excursion
Day 5: Marksburg Castle Tour
Day 6: Cologne Walking Tour
Day 7: Kinderdijk Windmill Excursion
Day 8: Amsterdam Walking Tour
In about half of the ports (Basel, Breisach, Cologne, Rudesheim, Kinderdijk, Amsterdam) you can easily walk from the ship into town. For the remainder of the ports (Strasbourg, Heidelberg, Koblenz) transportation was provided to the excursion. Each port offers a unique Christmas market, wonderful food, a new city to explore and wonderful shopping. I’ll be writing a full article detailing each port including my favorite things to eat, buy and explore. Check back soon for a link to this article.
You won’t go hungry on a Viking cruise. In addition to the three meals per day, you’ll find coffee and pastries available from 6am-11am as wells as cookies, tea and coffee in the afternoon.
My favorite meal on-board was breakfast. You can order from the menu or enjoy the daily buffet with fresh pastries, an omelet station, cheeses, meats, yogurt, lox with fixings, juices, and much more. Lunch is a combination of buffet and menu. Salad and some additional courses are available on the buffet or you can order soup and a main course from your waiter. Most evenings dinner is served from the menu and there are four to five options for the main course. Each dinner includes appetizers, starters of soup or salad, a main course and dessert.
If you have an allergy it’s smart to let your booking agent know in advance and also talk with the head waiter once on board. Make sure you clarify what foods you cannot eat. The chef on my cruise did not seem to have much experience with a gluten allergy, but after a few days he was coming up with some great options.
The Onboard Entertainment
Entertainment consists of several fun and sometimes funny shows with the crew. Local bands and singing groups will also join the ship during dinner or after dinner for special performances. Before dinner, there will often be a lecture or other learning event (ranging from the culture of locations, language lessons and learning about river cruising). The crew frequently participates in the after-dinner fun in the lounge. In fact, you might find you get to know the crew on a friendship level just as you would with other cruisers.
Everything about Viking is casual and relaxed. The dress is informal for this Viking cruise. Think smart casual. Depending on the day, you may find yourself coming to dinner straight from an excursion. There are no fancy evenings and no need for formal attire whatsoever.
Below you can find a full list of what is included with the Viking Rhine Getaway cruise. The two big items that stood out to me are 1) wine and beer are always complimentary during lunch and dinner (as well as during special shipboard events and tastings) and 2) daily included excursions.
- 8-days; 4 countries; 10 ports
- Visit 5 UNESCO World Heritage Sites
- Culture Curriculum®: enjoy a classical music performance; learn how to create your own Alsatian flammkuchen; observe a traditional glassblower; attend lectures on Germany’s current affairs & origins of Rhine River cruising
- All onboard meals (breakfast, lunch and dinner) featuring regional specialties & American classics are always available
- Welcome Cocktail Reception & Farewell Dinner
- Open-air walking track
- 24/7 Guest Services for special requests
- 6 included shore excursions with local guide & headset
- Complimentary Wi-Fi
- Complimentary beer, wine & soft drinks with onboard lunch & dinner
- Multiple dining venues with open seating 24/7 specialty coffees, teas & bottled water
- Aquavit Terrace and the most al fresco dining on Europe’s Rivers
- All port taxes and fees
- Airport meet & greet transfers included when air is purchased from Viking River Cruises
What’s Not Included
A Viking Cruise could be 100% all-inclusive if you stick with the provided alcohol and soft drinks as well as an included daily excursion. There are no hidden fees or costs once aboard. Below are the few items that aren’t included in the cruise:
- If you want to upgrade, you can opt for unlimited beverages during your cruise, with the Viking’s Silver Spirits package. You could also buy your favorite bottles and mixers in port and keep them in your stateroom.
- As stated previously, additional excursions are not included in the cost.
- Tipping at the end of the cruise.
Who goes on Viking River Cruises?
The average range for a Viking Eir cruise seemed to be 50-65 years old. There were also a few twenty-somethings with their parents as well as a large group of 40-somethings from England on my cruise. There were also quite a few in the 65+ range. It seems that the Viking cruise demographic is skewing a bit younger now that river cruising is becoming more and more popular.
I expected a lot of rain during our December cruise, but we were lucky on our cruise to have very little. This is not the norm and you should pack for rain and cold weather. In December you should plan for it to be anywhere from chilly to cold, with gray skies and rain at times. I’ve created a list of what to pack for a winter river cruise that will help you take the guesswork out of what you should and should not bring.
I loved my Viking Rhine River cruise experience. It was a huge treat to visit four countries and 10 ports without having to pack and unpack as well as travel by bus, train, car or plane to a new hotel in each location. The concept of unpacking once is a huge plus. This aspect can’t be oversold.
I loved that the ships are small and there are less than 200 passengers. It’s quite easy to get to know most of the guests. I loved that there were no hidden costs.
If there was anything about the Viking experience I would improve it would be the gluten friendly aspect. I’m sure this will come with time.
Overall, I highly recommend a Viking River Cruise. It’s a wonderful way to see many locations with ease.
Oh, the winter sunrise was quite spectacular! It’s worth setting the alarm to check it out at least one day.
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6 Indispensable Items to Pack for a Viking Christmas Cruise
- Get a good guide book such as this one on Castles on the Rhine
- Get a good quality mirrorless camera for getting the Christmas markets and castles. I use the Sony Alpha a6000 .
- The Gerber Dime multi-tool. It’s just like your favorite Swiss Army knife, but the lack of blade makes it TSA-friendly.
- Weather is unpredictable, so bring a lightweight umbrella and rain jacket.
- Waterproof hiking boots. I love Keen because they are lightweight and super comfortable.
- A great cross body travel bag. Cross body bags prevent theft and are much easier to access.
Thinking about a Viking Rhine River Cruise? Ask your questions in the comments below!
Although I was provided a complimentary Rhine Getaway experience thanks to Viking River Cruises, the experiences shared and opinions are my mine.
Disclosure: Some of the links in this post are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers.