Cruising Down the Rhine River: Our Great Viking Longboat Experience

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By Mike and Debra DuBose with Blake DuBose

In 2015, we traveled 820 miles down the Rhine River on an eight-day Viking River Cruise from Amsterdam, Netherlands to Basel, Switzerland. It was one of the best trips we’ve ever taken—and we don’t say that lightly, having logged more than 2 million flight miles across the world! The experience was simply outstanding, from start to finish. We enjoyed delicious, exceedingly fresh food; fine wines; tailored itineraries; breathtaking scenery; excellent customer service; and modern, clean rooms. Dr. Gary Raymond, a friend who took the identical Viking riverboat cruise weeks before, echoed his satisfaction with the trip, commenting that out of 18 cruises he has been on, this was one of the best! He noted, “Everyone from the captain down was open to taking care of any problem you could come up with.”

Viking is one of several major cruise lines, including AmaWaterways, Uniworld, Avalon Waterways, and Tauck, to run river cruises in a variety of countries. Taking a Viking cruise is a very different experience than being on one of the large cruise ships, however. Having only 190 passengers on board promoted a unique and relaxing atmosphere. There were a few teenagers, but most of the passengers were 50 or older. We did not see (or hear) any children or loud, wild groups, as one would experience on the larger cruise ships, which carry thousands of passengers!

Viking operates 40 longships, mostly catering to experienced, English-speaking experienced travelers. We rode aboard a Viking longboat named “Mani” on our trip. The riverboat is very quiet, and the river is so calm you can hardly tell you are moving! The ship is handicapped accessible and has an elevator. (More details about Viking cruises can be found at

When to go: When scheduling your trip, remember that riverboat cruises are dependent on rains—water levels in the rivers must be high enough to accommodate the boat, but not too high. Surprisingly (but very importantly), the Rhine is not very deep, so if the water level is too low, your cruise could be cancelled. Water levels that are too high are also a problem—in fact, as our friend Johnny Moore experienced, high, fast-moving waters make the ship unable to dock, and you will have to be transported by bus to your next location. (Moore noted, however, that “Viking took great pains to try to make up for the inconvenience” by booking the passengers into a nice hotel and providing them with a great meal.) We recommend that you check the river’s water levels using Google before going to avoid any surprises!

We sailed in July, and the weather was great. However, although temperatures are cooler, May and September are generally our preferred months to travel because the summer tourists have not yet descended on Europe, children are in school, and snows are melting, resulting in higher water depths.

How to book: You can choose to arrange your cruise, flight, and hotel for yourself; work with your local travel agency; or buy the cruise (or a cruise-air combination package) directly from Viking (Reid Panlilio is a good Viking agent and can be reached at 877-668-4546 Ext. 8815). Moore recommended, “Use a travel agent and interview them before booking to see what additional amenities you might get by using their agency. We booked with AAA and received $125 each in on-board credit. We talked to others who did even better.” 

If you know someone who has traveled on Viking and you mention their name and address, both you and that person may receive a $100 per person credit ($200 per couple) for the referral. As the travel agent for his family of companies, Mike is not eligible for the referral, but ask around to see if you know anyone has travelled with Viking before booking! If you book more Viking cruises, you may also receive additional incentives.

The air-cruise package can save you money, but you usually can’t choose your airline, won’t receive airline reward points, and may have to make multiple stops or have a complex flight schedule. We met some Viking passengers whose luggage had been lost due to the combination of airlines they were assigned. You can request to fly on a single carrier for an additional cost, but there are no guarantees. If you select the Viking combination package, you generally will know the details of your flight about 75 days out. Whatever your choice, book at least six months (or, preferably, a year) in advance, since Viking cruises often sell out and the price escalates as you approach the sail date of your desired cruise. You can also opt into airport pickup and drop-off service with luggage transfers at an additional cost. We never check luggage ourselves, preferring to carry everything we need aboard the plane so it doesn’t get lost. See our article on the art of packing to learn how we fit everything necessary for a ten-day trip in two carry-ons per passenger!

Since river cruises may be cancelled, we recommend that you charge the trip to a credit card that provides travel insurance, such as Chase Sapphire or Marriott Visa; study and consider the travel insurance offered by Viking; or purchase your own travel insurance from businesses such as Allianz or American Express ( has a good review of several options). You can obtain a two percent discount on your cruise if you pay by e-check. We preferred to pay the extra fee and use our credit card to not only generate points, but also provide some rights and travel insurance.

If you keep the same itinerary, it may be possible for you to change the dates of your cruise for a small fee, as we did. You can also cancel your cruise, but there may be penalties, so read the details. At the time this article was written, Viking was offering all kinds of incentives, including free air travel and cancellations without penalties. Check their website before booking for updated specials.

Prior to leaving, you will receive two detailed booklets, but no paper tickets. The first booklet provides background on the history of the Rhine River, and the other deals with your cruise. Be sure to read the second one carefully! Also, we were advised in March 2016 that Viking plans to implement a special online access point for booked passengers called where you can manage many aspects of your Viking trip.

Room selections: Each riverboat has three stateroom floors: water level, middle deck, and upper deck. There are five different types of rooms (Explorer Suites, Veranda Suites, Veranda Staterooms, French Balcony Staterooms, and Standard Staterooms) at varying price points, with the larger rooms on the higher floors being most expensive. Rooms on the upper deck exit into the bar, entertainment, and buffet food area, and middle deck staterooms are close to the dining hall. The upper deck is also home to the Aquavit Terrace. According to Departures Magazine, some individuals book the Viking river cruise for the terrace alone!

The most economically priced rooms, the Standard Staterooms, are located on the lowest level. This stateroom level is partially underwater and has only two small windows, so the view is not good (although two passengers we spoke to said they enjoyed seeing ducks floating by). Moore recommended, “Pay the extra cost and get a cabin with a view!” Some travelers who had been on multiple Viking cruises did not complain about staying in Standard Staterooms, though.

Rooms on the middle or upper decks either have a French door (without a balcony) or a balcony or terrace, which we recommend! We chose a Veranda Stateroom and enjoyed sitting out on our balcony throughout the cruise. We stayed on the upper deck this time, but will try the middle deck on our next Viking trip since the rooms are similar and the middle deck is less expensive.

Each room is assigned an English-speaking steward who keeps your room neat and clean, plus places bottled water in your room each day. He or she will greet you upon arrival and attend to any room-related needs you have. To increase the level of pampering even further, the ship also has a concierge who will assist you with any other matters. Moore noted, “If you take a cruise on Viking, don’t overlook the value of a great concierge. They can answer almost all of your questions and help you with many different facets of the cruise.”

Viking’s modern rooms are fairly spacious and are decorated with soothing colors and art. Most have a comfortable queen sized-bed, but the pillows are small (you may ask your steward for larger pillows—or make other requests, such as firmer or softer pillows, or heavier or lighter blankets, as Moore did). The rooms have thermostat-controlled heating and air and plenty of American-type, 110-volt electrical outlets that can power most electronics. There are two thermostats in the room: one for the cabin and a second one hidden in the bathroom for the heated floor. Be sure to ask your steward how to properly operate these since the main cabin thermostat needs to be set on a certain temperature.

While it may not appear possible, most of your carry-on luggage can be stored under the bed! The large, flat, wall-mounted television has English-speaking channels, including ones like CNN, CNBC, etc., and free, recently-released American movies, which we watched late at night when it was too dark to see the river. The shower/bathroom was fairly spacious, with large towels, good water pressure, and a hair dryer. In addition, each room had a decent-sized closet with a safe.

We recommend selecting rooms in the middle of the ship for several reasons: there is no rocking motion; some of the passengers in the rear complained of fumes and loud engine noise or vibrations; and the middle rooms have quick access to the stairs or elevator to different levels. Our room was so quiet that we never even knew we were moving!  

What to bring: Because temperatures vary radically depending on your route and the dates you go, we recommend checking the weather forecast for each port a week before leaving and packing accordingly. Mike added the Weather Channel app to his smartphone and checked each port’s weather the day before disembarkation to ensure he and Debra wore appropriate clothing. Everyone dressed casually on our Viking trip, unlike some of the larger cruises. There was no formal captain’s dinner, and we only saw two people wearing sports jackets, suits, or dressy female attire. Whatever you bring with you, be sure to pack comfortable shoes and thick socks, as you will be walking a lot on the shore excursions! Conveniently, Viking provides umbrellas and ponchos in the event of rain, so you don’t need to pack those.

Before you board: We flew into the Amsterdam airport on Delta aboard a Boeing 747. (You can also fly into Basel, Switzerland and travel upriver to Amsterdam). The cruise goes through four countries: the Netherlands, Germany, France, and Switzerland. All of these countries use the euro, except for Switzerland (although some vendors there will accept euros). Viking does not cash checks aboard the ship, but they will make change from larger euro bills, which is very helpful because many shopkeepers in Europe prefer exact change.

Although Amsterdam has something of an unsavory reputation due to legal drugs and prostitution in its “Red Light District,” we found it to be one of the most enjoyable and clean cities we have ever visited, and we never saw anyone using drugs while there! Prior to the cruise, we employed private guide Tom van der Leij and his wife Ana to take us on a tour of Amsterdam and the surrounding areas, and they did a great job! You can visit them at We recently published an article about our trip to Amsterdam, which can be found at Regardless of whether you fly in through Amsterdam or Basel, we recommend arriving two or more days ahead of your cruise departure date. This will give you some time to unwind, overcome any jet lag, and enjoy the city, as well as build in a cushion in case of flight delays. We stayed at Hilton hotels in both Amsterdam and Basel on our extra days before and after the cruise. They were great since they were modern and strategically located near train, bus, or tram stations, which allowed us to get around the cities easily. You may also go through Viking to extend your vacation with a few extra days in nearby cities prior to and following your cruise; we received mixed reviews on these add-on trips.

Getting started: You normally board the boat in the afternoon on the first day, but you are welcome to enter earlier for lunch. You will have to go through a safety drill. The life jackets are small, and if you have a big head (like Mike!), they may scratch your face and neck when you put them on. Before the ship heads down the river, Moore recommends purchasing a river map from the reception desk. “Ours cost only 7 euros, and it was money well spent,” he said. The map contains information about the river, with kilometer markers (similar to mile markers on the highway) to help identify landmarks.

Food and drink: Unlike some cruise lines that provide food all the time, meals are only offered three times per day. There is no assigned seating, in contrast to larger cruise lines, so we rotated tables most days in order to meet new folks. Some of the passengers we talked to had taken five or more Viking cruises! By the time we departed the ship on the last day, we knew about half of the travelers aboard. At mealtimes, you have a choice of being served at a table or going through a buffet line on another level. Service was outstanding, and the food was some of the best, freshest cuisine we have ever eaten. Periodically, the longship would stop in ports to stock up on fresh foods that seemed to have been picked that very day. On one day during the cruise, the chef will also invite those who want to tour the kitchen to walk through and inspect the facility as the food is being cooked.

At lunch, there is a salad bar with an abundant selection of produce, and you can choose your plated meal from menus and be served by a waiter. The food was so good and country-specific (not to mention, free) that we rarely ate while out visiting ports or on tours off of the ship. Great selections were offered every day, and there were always fish and ribeye options (one day, Mike got both!). Moore noted that “if you are not at least somewhat adventurous in the culinary area, you might find yourself ordering ribeye steak (an everyday option) more than once during your cruise, and on German night, if you don’t care for sausages and other German fare, your options are very limited, as the everyday menu is not available that evening.” Fortunately, the chefs can accommodate special diets as well. Dr. Raymond once mentioned that he loved liver and onions, and the chef made a special trip at one of the ports to cook that meal as a delicious surprise for him! The desserts were also excellent.

Wine and beer (served during meals) were included in the price of the ticket. Like the food, beverages were tailored to the region we were visiting at the time. However, if you have a favorite brand of drink, Viking—unlike other cruise lines—will allow you to bring your own alcohol when checking in with no corkage fees. Coffee (including special drinks like mochas and espresso), tea, and cookies are available 24 hours a day, and in the morning, you can enjoy a delicious selection of pastries.

Cell phones, wireless internet, and computer access: Each room has acceptable complimentary wireless, and there are two large-screen computers on the water level that you can use free of charge. However, some of the longboats do not have self-service printers, so if you need something printed (such as your boarding passes), you will need to send your documents to the concierge or front desk staff using their e-mail addresses.

If you plan to use your smartphone while abroad, call your cell phone provider beforehand to unlock it for international use and learn how to avoid astronomical data charges. As long as you are connected to the ship’s Wi-Fi or at a restaurant (servers usually will help you log on), we have found that data charges are minimal.

When leaving the ship, be sure to enter its telephone number into your phone’s address book in case of emergency, and take a small compass if you don’t have one built into your smartphone that operates without Wi-Fi. When he decided to venture off alone, Mike got lost in a small German town where no one spoke English! If you do get lost, however, you can find the ship by heading back to the Rhine River, as he did.

Tours and places you will visit: In your room, you will find two sets of earbuds to use and receivers to hang around your neck when taking tours. Viking contracts with local tour guides who speak English and are knowledgeable about the area to guide you—although they sometimes went into so much detail we only remembered a small percentage of what they said!

At most ports, you will disembark and travel to the tours via large, modern Mercedes buses or on foot. You will be assigned to a rotating group of 20 passengers. Each group has its own guide, so there will be plenty of individualized attention and time for questions. Then, you will tour certain parts of each port, after which you are usually released for free time on your own. You can also stay on board the boat and relax or take the bus with the group and break off on your own rather than taking the guided tour. However, if you do, be sure to note the time and the place where the bus will depart to return to the ship.

Viking’s Rhine Getaway stopped in these cities and ports: Amsterdam, Kinderdijk, Cologne, Koblenz, Rüdeshiem, Heidelberg, Speyer, Strasbourg, Breisach, and Basel. You don’t need your passport at each stop, but Viking staff will need to see them in advance when you initially board. Then, you will be given a special Viking passport card that allows you to enter and leave the ship at its many stops. Lock your passport in your room safe on Day 1 to keep it secure. (Make sure to empty the safe on the last day of your cruise!)

Many tours and excursions built into your trip target UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization) World Heritage Sites. There are 936 of these sites—including famous landmarks like the Great Wall of China, Versailles, and Machu Picchu—in 153 countries all over the world. They have been declared to be of “outstanding universal value” to humankind for cultural, historical, and natural (i.e. Yellowstone National Park or the Great Barrier Reef) reasons.

Prior to arriving at each port, a Viking staff member will place an itinerary for the day in your room (you will also receive a faxed, abbreviated USA Today newspaper on a daily basis). These excellent 3-4 page documents include extensive information about what to expect so you can prepare. Each provides a detailed overview of the country you will be visiting, its characteristics, famous people who have lived there, and things to see, do, and eat. They also include updated temperatures, port arrival/departure times, dock numbers, staff telephone numbers, ATM locations, important landmarks to visit, and other tips. You will be briefed in a large group meeting about the next day’s activities as well. Before you leave on tours or excursions, friendly staff members will hand out cold bottled water (or umbrellas and ponchos, if rain is a possibility). Upon your return, they will give you another bottled water and a cool washcloth to freshen up.

Tours of most cities are included in the cost of your trip, and Viking offers additional excursions, which may be booked prior to your arrival or on board, for an added cost. The following are our impressions of each stop we made, including comments from us or other passengers:

Kinderdijk, Holland: Very good. It was fascinating to see 19 of the 1,000 windmills located in the country, and we actually went inside one and could see the blades turning! Some Dutch windmills date back to the 1700s and are still used to pump water out of canals and grind grains. Families even live in them! There was a shop as we exited the tour that sold reasonably priced gifts. If you are interested in the Bible story of Noah’s Ark, there is a replica of the ark in Dordrecht, Holland that you can see from the Viking longship as you pass. The enormous wooden boat measures 450 feet long and three stories high and is complete with full-size plastic animals. Carpenter Johan Huibers spent three years and more than $1 million to build it! It was an awesome sight to behold, but was unfortunately not on any of the ports of call.

Cologne, Germany: Some people found the trip between Kinderdijk and Cologne boring. Upon arrival at Cologne, we were disappointed in the tour. Instead, we recommend exploring the city on your own while the ship is docked in the port. Cologne was one of the first settlements in Germany, and it has a great domed cathedral that was the only structure in the city to survive the bombs of World War II. The cathedral is beautifully lit at night, but note that it is closed to visitors on Sunday (as are most shops). There was a tour of the Rococo-style Brühl palaces and their gardens offered for 44 euros, which we did not take. We heard good comments about the 29-euro Brauhaus (brewhouse) pub crawl and culture tour, however! Unfortunately, Cologne has experienced some unrest recently due to tensions over refugees from the Middle East, so that may affect future visitors and some caution is needed in this city.

Koblenz, Germany: We skipped the castle excursion and heard unfavorable comments about the tour there.

Rüdeshiem, Germany: We arrived late, but this was a nice village with many shops. We walked a good bit here. For 15 euros, you can visit Siegfried’s Mechanical Music Museum, which features all types of self-playing pianos and music boxes. However, it was not air-conditioned, and when we toured, it was hot! There was an optional dinner here for 59 euros that other passengers rated as fair, saying that all the food was preselected for them, while others from the cruise boat just showed up and ordered what they wanted. The dinner is located in a pedestrian area called the Drosselgasse where you can hear “oom-pah-pah” music. We chose to eat dinner on the ship and thoroughly enjoyed a delicious German meal.

Heidelburg, Germany: We were disappointed in the castle tour. You only got to see the exterior of the building, and while there were interesting and beautiful parts overlooking the town, the crowds hindered the potential good times. We suggest ordering a taxi or asking the tour director to take you to the old town market square instead. The second part of the day, when we disengaged from the tour and shopped in the old town, was excellent, and we enjoyed perusing some of its hundreds of shops.

Speyer, Germany: We did not visit the Speyer Museum of Technology, but wish we had! This museum boasts an impressive collection of locomotives, classic cars, and a German U-boat submarine. A Boeing 747 sits on a pedestal outside of the museum.

Kehl, Germany: Instead of taking the Strasbourg, France tour, we walked through this small German town where we were docked. Go after 10 AM, which is when businesses open up for the day. If you need to buy anything, Müller Drogerie is a good store. There was an optional Alsatian wine-tasting excursion for 49 euros each that we heard was disappointing. However, if you are a Mercedes lover, the 19-euro visit to the Mercedes factory there—which has produced more than 3 million of the luxury cars since 1992—may be of interest to you!

Breisach, Germany: At the Breisach stop, we split up, with Debra going to nearby Freiburg and Mike taking the Colmar World War II excursion in the afternoon. Debra rated her Freiburg visit, which was free, as one of the best after breaking away from the tour group. She noted that they had some excellent small shops with handmade jewelry and crafts, as well as good eateries. Mike enjoyed the World War II tour and recommends it to any fellow World War II buffs. The 39-euro tour offered details on the offensive where heroic French and American troops forced Germans to retreat from the Colmar region. It also included information about Audie Murphy, America’s most decorated war hero (be sure to watch the movie To Hell and Back, which provides many details about Murphy, beforehand if you choose to go). However, unless you know a good bit about World War II, we would not recommend it. There is also a tour of the medieval quarter of Colmar and its squares and canals for 39 euros.

Basel, Switzerland: This is a very clean city that limits automobile traffic and has an excellent tram system. The Hilton we stayed in at the end of our trip was near the tram station, and the hotel provided free tram tickets. We took trams #8 and #11 to the “old town” section, which is worth a visit! Basel is very close to Germany and France, and fewer residents speak English than in other places we encountered. They use Swiss francs rather than euros there. The Swiss chocolate was wonderful!

On the river: While cruising down the river, be sure to go to the top deck and look for the 30 castles you will pass along the way. Take some small, lightweight, but powerful binoculars to enjoy the best views (Bushnell makes an excellent pair that can be bought on or at Wal-Mart). Viking staff will give you maps showing the castles’ locations. There are more than 20,000 castles or castle ruins in Germany! In fact, Moore’s favorite part of the trip was the Scenic Middle Rhine Cruising morning, “where we were able to see castle after castle set along the river banks among rolling vineyards with picturesque villages and towns dotting the shores…narrated by our Program Director, who did an outstanding job of relating the history of most of the castles and telling tales of valor and heartbreak woven into their pasts.”

The ship passes through 12 river locks along the Rhine between Amsterdam and Basel. These locks, or boat lifts, are water devices that raise and lower a ship between stretches of water that are at different elevations. This was a fascinating process to watch from the upper deck (some raised the ship by 50+ feet!). If water levels are high, the navigation center on top of the ship can be lowered when passing under bridges to avoid collisions. Staff will demonstrate it if you ask! Touring the navigational deck at night was very intriguing.

Onboard entertainment: Unlike on larger cruise ships, entertainment on the Viking ship was limited. They typically had a piano player present each night, and on one occasion, graduate students from a local music college played violin and piano. They were excellent! Another time, there was a glass-blowing demonstration. Most passengers congregated on the upper deck at night for the views, drinks, and conversation. There is a covered area up there for shade during the day, as well as a walking track if you want to get some exercise on your trip (there is no gym).

Health and safety: While terrorism is a threat worldwide, we felt safe on this trip and aboard the ship. Although there is no physician present, staff members are trained in first aid and CPR. Let them know in advance if you have any serious medical conditions.

Wrapping up the trip: Unfortunately, all good things come to an end! On the night before you leave the ship, you will be asked to place your luggage outside your stateroom door with a time you plan to depart. (Keep any valuables or important items like jewelry, medicines, and passports on your person in case your luggage is stolen or accidentally taken by the wrong person.) When you arrive at your final destination of either Basel or Amsterdam, you walk off the longboat, which will only take about 10 minutes. Once you have disembarked, your cruise director will greet you and you will select your luggage. Then, you will meet your taxi driver, who can be reserved through your tour director the day before. It gets a little crazy at the taxi stand, so mark your luggage with your name, contact information, and some unusual items like colored ribbon to differentiate it from the others. 

If you booked a combination package with Viking, staff will give you instructions on leaving the country. If you are arranging your own flight, be sure to print your tickets the night before (not to mention, enroll as a frequent flier beforehand so you get points for the long plane ride!). On the day before the end of your cruise, you can buy multiple Viking coupons worth $200 toward a future cruise with Viking for only $100.

Getting home: Be sure to include at least two hours between connecting flights and allow yourself up to two hours to get through Customs in the US. You won’t have to go back through European Customs when returning home. We were very impressed with Amsterdam airport security!

For frequent travelers, we recommend the Global Entry program, which makes US Customs a breeze for low-risk passengers enrolled in it. See for details on the program, which is a great buy at a one-time fee of $100 for a five-year period. You can add your Global Entry information onto your frequent flier profile and be automatically enrolled in the US TSA “PreCheck” (fast lane) program as well!

For more unique tips on international travel, we recommend our article “International Travel for Beginners, Pros, and Everyone in Between.”

The bottom line: Viking is a well-organized, customer-driven company that caters attentively to its passengers’ comfort and offers the best food and great fun. Nearly all of your expenses are included in the package you select, and it’s a great deal for the first class treatment you receive. They simply have their act together! As many other Viking passengers, we would rate our trip aboard the Viking longboat Mani a 9 out of 10—and with a little tweaking of the tours and excursions (especially incorporating more shopping time at the ports), it could reach a 10! We just completed our second Viking riverboat cruise from Budapest on the Danube, and it was another great voyage. See you on the river!

We thank fellow passengers Marilyn Miles, Johnny and Susan Moore, and Dr. Gary Raymond for their input into this article.

About the Authors: Together, we have logged more than 2 million flight miles over the world in the last 40 years. Our corporate and personal purpose is to “create opportunities to improve lives” by sharing our knowledge, research, experiences, successes, and mistakes. You can e-mail us at

Mike DuBose received his graduate degree from the University of South Carolina and is the author of The Art of Building a Great Business. He has been in business since 1981 and is the owner of Research Associates, The Evaluation Group, Columbia Conference Center, and DuBose Fitness Center. Visit his nonprofit website for a free copy of his book and additional business, travel, health, and personal published articles.

Debra DuBose has been married to Mike for 44 years and co-writes articles with him. She holds bachelors and graduate degrees from Winthrop University and Francis Marion University.

Blake DuBose graduated from Newberry College’s Schools of Business and Psychology and is president of DuBose Web Group (

Katie Beck serves as Director of Communications for the DuBose family of companies. She graduated from the USC School of Journalism and Honors College.

© Copyright 2016 by Mike DuBose—All Rights Reserved. You have permission and we encourage you to forward the full article to friends or colleagues and/or distribute it as part of personal or professional use, providing that the authors are credited. However, no part of this article may be altered or published in any other manner without the written consent of the authors. If you would like written approval to post this information on an appropriate website or to publish this information, please contact Katie Beck at