Does anyone have any experience and/or recommendations for river cruises on the Rhine? Been looking at Viking lines that seem to be pricey. I'd also be interested in shorter river excursions also. Thanks in advance!
There are day-excursion boats in the Middle Rhine Valley - the yellow segment on the map - which is the most scenic part of the Rhine.
And for the most scenic cruising within that most scenic part, focus on the two sections that get the most traffic and have the most boats per day...
Bingen > Boppard (the southern part)
Linz am Rhein > Bonn (the northern part)
To get from one part to the other (Boppard > Linz) it's best to use the train. Trains will get you to any of the Rhine towns, btw.
This map displays the towns and the castles along the Rhine.
There are other sections of the Rhine where day cruising is possible, but they aren't quite as good a use of your time, and they have skimpier boat schedules.
Here's the KD cruises web page with the timetables and details. When the 2020 schedule comes out it's likely to be similar, but seasonal dates will probably differ.
An important strategy is to cruise WITH the current (from south to north.) Cruising in the other direction requires about 50% more time to see the same scenery.
We go on a River Cruise every other year. Viking is one of the cheaper lines - (it's a 3 star in the travel agency world - they compare it to Carnival Ocean Cruises). We've been on Viking and for us, it was just ok. Our favorite is Tauck, followed by Uniworld, but they are a lot more money, but worth every penny. TONS BETTER service, food, tours. Consider going in Nov/Dec on a XMAS Market River Cruise - they are cheaper. We've done Viking, AMA, Avalon Tauck, Uniworld.
Some good options from chinalake. If you haven't already done so, I'd recommend having a look at the River Cruising forums on Cruise Critic.com. There are several sticky threads at the top of their main page with some excellent information for first timers.
Like chinalake we are Tauck fans. Have taken 4 River cruises with them. Not cheap but totally all inclusive. No tipping, all excursions included, all food and drink including all alcohol. They always deliver more than expected. They also don't play games with prices. Viking is fairly moderately priced especially I'd you don't want cocktails or take the extra excursions. Where I've heard bad about them has always been when things go wrong - customer service isn't their thing.
Things to look at when comparing cruise lines:
How many passengers max. That affects service ratios and size of daily tour groups.
If you're a solo traveler is there a single supplement.
Room square footage is more important than having a balcony which you seldom get to use.
There is always a certain amount of noise at night when the ships often transit to the next port. Opt for a cabin about midship to avoid lobby noise at the front or engine noise at the back.
Do you care about having a gym or bicycles on board? Bike excursions along the river are fun and a good way to burn off all the food.
Are transfers to/from the ship to the airport included.
Viking often includes airfare but you don't necessarily get much say in which flight you get.
Travel insurance. Is it offered, how much, terms, etc.
Keep in mind that river cruise ships are not the same as ocean. On board entertainment is low key - a pianist in the lounge, sometimes a group of local entertainers, game boards, on demand in room movies, maybe a hot tub or small pool.
We've about run out of European rivers so focusing on land tours now.
I’ve done 3 river cruises through Grand Circle Travel - 2 on the Rhine and the third on the Danube. Reasonably priced and excellent - good food, good program directors and itineraries, good mix of included and optional sites. Take a look and see if their itineraries work for you.
Amy, are you saying that you want a sleep aboard one week trip, or a daysail like KD? Unfortunately, most people use the words Rhine cruise to describe a three hour trip on a KD boat, as well as for a sleep aboard.
Ditto Kathleen re Grand Circle on the Rhein (2 weeks-ish itinerary).
Also recommend their wow of a trip on the Nile, when you want a different river!
You will find river cruise lines vary in cost and quality.
The very top lines are Tauck, Uniworld and a few others. If you like paying for first class or business class airfare, you might consider them. However, the mainstream lines (below) provide a great service for significantly less:
Viking, Vantage World Travel, AMA Waterways, Scenic and Grand Circle (Grand Circle is probably on the border line with being a budget line).
If you are interested in a very good cruise with a budget price, I know many that have been very happy with Gate 1. In fact, I am considering them for our next river cruise.
Top lines are comparable to a Ritz-Carlton or Waldorf.
Main Stream Lines are comparable to Sheraton, Marriott, Crowne Plaza and a nice Holiday Inn.
Budget lines are comparable to Budget Inn, Travelodge or Holiday Inn Express.
We have done four River cruises, all included a land tour as well. One was with AMA Waterways, 3 with Vantage World Travel. Our hotels were 4.5 or 5 star hotels. The cruises were wonderful with excellent tours and dining. No, we didn't choose the cabins on the upper decks with a mini balcony, but we didn't spend much time in our cabins anyway.
We did a Viking cruise last summer to celebrate my parents' 50th anniversary together. I ended up liking it more than I thought I would. Room and cabin quality was definitely better than a Holiday Inn, (I like their Scandinavian modern vibe and find what others see as luxury to be overly fussy) and the soundproofing was excellent- even the night we were docked next to the Koblenz beer festival, you couldn't hear anything when you had the slider/window closed. Food was solid and reliable but not gourmet. If you want to hit the Co-Op for snacks on the way to the boat, there's a mini-fridge in the rooms. (And unlike the ocean cruise ships, they don't care if you BYOB on board)
The ship was shiny and new and had only been on the Rhine for about a month at that point; the down side was that the crew was still figuring out how to work as a team and there were a few service failures. Viking is also growing perhaps a little faster than they can really control and that led to some docking that was no always in the center of town but something in a nearby industrial park that required you to take a shuttle bus to get to the cool stuff.
Ah, the bus. My family figured out somewhere around day two that we just aren't bus tour people, especially since the Viking bus tended to take the long way to where we were going so that the tour guide could tell us stuff about the formation of the European Common Market and such things that were better left to looking up in Wikipedia articles and issues of The Economist and which cut into our town time. Fortunately when you did get there, it was generally easy to find out where you were meeting back up with the bus later so you could ditch the guide and slowly walking group (us 'kids' were 25-40 years younger than most of the boat and my parents are power-walking types) and explore on your own.
For an extra $150 in assorted fees and a little extra in fares, you can pick your own flights for the Viking Air promotion. This includes arriving on different days or going into or departing from different airports if you want to DIY some additional Europe time outside Viking's expensive pre and post trip add-ons. For a Basel to Amsterdam cruise, different parts of my party flew into Basel, Zurich, and Munich and left from Amsterdam and Dusseldorf and it still worked out cheaper than booking air on our own.
My family and I took a river cruise with Gate 1 in spring 2019 in the Netherlands and Belgium. It was excellent. While Gate one has been called by some as budget the cruise we enjoyed did not feel or look budget. Yes alcoholic beverages and tips are xtra, but amounts to less than 150 dollars total for me as I drink very little. The cruise price is moderate imo and we had all the comforts as well as been well run. The meals are very good but not gourmet. I recommend this tour company as I have also taken 6 land tours with them and will be taking another river cruise this spring 2020 on the Danube and a land tour in May.
Thank you everyone for all the suggestions. Yes I was looking at sleeping on the boat...not day trips and you gave me some great resources to check out! Greatly appreciated! Amy
I am a AMAWaterways fan. Been on two and my third will be the Christmas markets on the Danube in December
Amy, what kind of traveling do you like to do? Have traveled in Europe before? Your satisfaction with the experience may be influenced by your answers.
We were invited to join another couple on a Rhine VRC in July 2016. We were celebrating the 50th anniversary that three of the four of us made together. We are independent travelers and would not have chosen to do a cruise on our own. It's not who we are as a family. We used to go to the beach and sail our Hobies instead of going to Disney World.
You mentioned their prices. Keep in mind there are other costs that you may want to consider. There are optional tours that run around $100 a couple for a half day. There's a special dinner you can attend at a significant cost. The price does not include drinks other than a glass or two of wine at dinner. Tipping for the crew is not included and after seeing how hard they work and the long hours they have (and knowing how little they are paid) its hard not to leave a significant tip. Finally we added on a couple of days in Amsterdam at the end of the trip. They put you up in an upscale hotel that costs a lot more than we normally spend on lodging.
VRC did an adequate but unremarkable job. Breakfast and lunch were better than the dinners. Logistics limited the variety and quality of the dinners. They seat all 200 at once which means some are going to get plates that are not warm. The quality of the tour guides paled in comparison to the Walks of Italy tours we took in Florence and Rome. Groups were huge, containing 30-50 people. You are assigned your headset at the beginning of the tour and for the first few days we were plagued with technical problems that kept us from being to hear our clearly or at all. Finally there were a handful of really obnoxious guests and there's just no way to get away from them in such tight quarters. A few were constantly, obnoxiously drunk and another grouchy guests actually challenged some other guests to a fist fight. It only takes one or two and the knowledge that you're stuck with them for a week to put a damper on the experience.
In contrast we had taken an independent trip to Tuscany just a little over 6 months before (December 2015). We did all the planning and arrangements. The trips were the same length. The VRC trip cost 3 times as much as our wonderful Tuscany adventure.
We found cruising just isn't our style. Be aware that what you actually experience isn't anything like those commercials on Masterpiece Theater. If you expect it to be, you'll be very disappointed.
Took a Viking cruise n 2015 from Budapest to Nurnberg. We decided river cruises are not for us. We felt Viking was pricey, but it does have sales and if you can get a 2 for 1 deal, then it isn’t bad. What we disliked about Viking is, it seemed that the tours guides, drivers, etc., we always looking to get a tip. With all the excursions, that added up. We were happy with the room, ship, and food, but hated getting herded around every town with the groups from all the other cruise boats in town.
Did an 8 day Uniworld Rhine cruise - Basel to Amsterdam - 2 years ago. Great aspects: food and shore excursions ( included in cruise price) using local guides. Outstanding aspects: perfect weather on the day we sailed in the Rudesheim area past many, many castles. Not so good aspects: Bad coffee (only espresso machine was in the crew’s quarters) and poor wine selection (only offered option of ‘white’ or ‘red’ - disappointing as we cruised through wine regions and there was the opportunity to showcase local wines). Uniworld usually stayed in a port for most of the day with an included excursion in the morning and then free time (or optional paid excursion) in the afternoon, the boat underway again around dinner time. The free time was great as we could get away on our own - having realised on Day 2 that we aren’t really “organised bus trip” people.