fighting windmills
Ron Stern

A Fabulous Rhine River Getaway With Viking River Cruises

7 days, 10 cities from Amsterdam to Basel with impeccable, personalized service

Viking Longships are floating luxury hotels offering all the amenities and service of a five-star resort. From the moment you board a Viking River Cruise, you know you are in for something special. My wife and I were fortunate to be able to sail a second time with Viking aboard the Vidar from the Netherlands to Switzerland. Our seven-day itinerary traversed four countries from Amsterdam to Basel and featured the cities of Kinderdijk, Cologne, Koblenz, Rüdesheim, Heidelberg, Speyer, Strasbourg, and Breisach. Many of the ships in Viking’s cruise fleet are named after the gods of Norse mythology, and our ship was named after Vidar, a son of Odin and the god of loyalty.

Day 1: Amsterdam, Netherlands

The Vidar was docked in Amsterdam, and Viking offered walking tours on the first day. When booking our trip, we decided to stay two extra nights to be able to see more of this city. We chose the Doubletree by Hilton, perfectly situated close to the Amsterdam Centraal train and tram stations. From here, you can explore the many areas of Amsterdam, including the Museum Quarter, Anne Frank House, shopping districts, restaurants, and pubs as well as 100 kilometers of interconnected canals.

The iamsterdam city card, available at various locations (including our hotel), provides free access to many museums and transportation as well as discounts on food and other services. A pass, good for 48 hours, costs 67 euros. One of the included activities you must try is the free canal cruise, which glides along the scenic waterways past floating houseboats, colorful residences, and under some of the city’s 1,500 stone bridges.

After boarding the Vidar, we were taken to our Veranda Stateroom. Surprisingly spacious at 205 square feet, the room was bright and modern with two beds and floor-to-ceiling sliding glass doors opening to a veranda. Cozy bathrobes were waiting on our beds, as were fresh water and a bottle of sparkling wine.

On-demand movies, music, sports, and news were also available via the Sony 40-inch flat panel TV. Viking has also made technology easy while cruising with standard American 110V sockets as well as 220V 2-pin European outlets. Hair dryers are also included, as is free Wi-Fi. The bathroom comes complete with plush towels, upscale bath amenities, and even a heated floor.

As we made our way to the Aquavit Terrace for a pre-sailing lunch, we were greeted by two staff members who already knew our names. This is one of the great things about Viking: the service! Unlike larger ocean cruise liners, the Vidar has a maximum capacity of 190 passengers, which evokes an intimate river cruising experience. The international crew really goes out of their way to make you feel at home, doing their best to satisfy any request.

The adjacent bar lounge is an open and comfortable space for various events and a good place to enjoy a cocktail, live music, and good conversation. On our first night, the tour director introduced a musical trio as three handsome gentlemen from Amsterdam who played music from the ’50s, ’60s, and ’70s as passengers danced until the wee hours.

Beer, wine, and soft drinks are complimentary during meals. However, guests can choose to add on a Silver Spirits Beverage Package, ($150 per person for a seven-night cruise) which covers all house pouring wines, beers, and liquor like cocktails and mixed drinks.

The Vidar also has a library, internet computers, coffee, and tea stations, and an onboard concierge service for special requests. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner are served in the ship’s restaurant although you can also opt to enjoy a bar-style menu in the Aquavit Terrace.

Service in the dining room is a combination of a buffet (breakfast and lunch) and personalized service for these as well as dinner. Guests can choose from a daily selection of entrees or pick something off the always available menu. Our first night, I chose to start with the baby shrimp cocktail followed by the braised beef brisket and meat empanada — all of which were exceptionally delicious. I ended my meal with their “Chocoholic” chocolate-whiskey ice cream, Baumkuchen with chocolate mousse, and a ganache cake.

Day 2: Kinderdijk, Netherlands

After sailing through the night, our ship docked briefly at Rotterdam and then sailed onto Kinderdijk.

This small village in South Holland features 19 windmills dating from the eighteenth century. Designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997, Kinderdijk has the largest concentration of windmills in the entire country. Sadly, only a fraction of the 150 original windmills have survived over time but this is a fascinating look at how they operated.

These workhorses are a visible tribute to how the Dutch were able to reclaim land from the sea, and today the windmills are surrounded by embankments that keep the waters at bay.

Optional tours also included a visit to a Dutch cheese factory for an inside look at how cheese is made.


Ron Stern

The sleek vessel

Day 3: Cologne, Germany

With a history that dates back 2,000 years to the Romans, Cologne is one of Germany’s four major cities along the banks of the Rhine River. After being bombed heavily by the allies in World War II, the city has been rebuilt with a mixture of various types of architecture.

Don’t miss a UNESCO World Heritage Site that escaped destruction during WWII, the 1880 Kölner Dom, a Gothic cathedral. With its towering twin spires and elegant stained glass windows, it is considered the largest Gothic cathedral in Northern Europe.

Popular spots in the city include the Hohe Strasse or pedestrian zone with shopping, restaurants, and boutiques as well as the chocolate museum, Wallraf-Richartz Museum, and House of 4711. The latter is one of the most famous perfumeries in Europe and has been in operation since 1792.

Day 4: Koblenz and Rüdesheim, Germany

Our ship gently slid into dock in Koblenz right at the famous Deutsches Eck, or “German Corner.” Situated at the confluence of the Rhine and Moselle Rivers, this city has a history dating back 2,000 years (it also began as a Roman settlement). A strip of land marks the confluence of both rivers at the popular Deutsches Eck, where visitors can gaze upon the colossal bronze statue of Kaiser Wilhelm I on horseback, triumphantly towering 120 feet above the city and affording grand views of the area from its pedestal.

Not to be missed is the cable car excursion to the Ehrenbreitstein Fortress that overlooks the town. The cars float silently over the Rhine and are among the largest in Germany in terms of capacity, able to transport 7,600 people per day.

The fortress, the second largest in the world, was constructed between 1817 and 1828 by the Prussians as part of the area’s fortification system. Upon reaching the summit, you can stroll through the passageways and enjoy cultural exhibitions. A local beer called Festungs Bräu is brewed just for the fortress, and you can enjoy a stein while taking in a bird’s-eye view of Koblenz.

From a large city to a small town, Rüdesheim is as cozy, charming, and picturesque as any town you are likely to find in Germany. Located in the Upper Middle Rhine Valley, the area is known for its vineyards, but there is much more to see and do here. You can explore nature by walking along many excellent and scenic hiking trails that overlook the Rhine, visit ancient castles, and sample some of the finest riesling and pinot noir wines in the region.

The town’s meandering lanes look like something out of a fairy tale with half-timbered houses, hidden courtyards, and small hotels and eateries. Here, you can make arrangements (on a separate trip, of course) to actually sleep in a large wine barrel (cozy but more spacious than you might think)!

One of the optional excursions is a night of food and fun at Rüdesheimer Schloss for dinner. Owner Susanne Breuer makes every guest to her hotel/restaurant feel like family. She insists on providing the best in fresh, local ingredients for her meals. Make sure you also try the Rüdesheim coffee, a local specialty that you won’t want to miss — even if you aren’t a coffee drinker!

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