Long trip report.....
Vienna to Amsterdam with Viking River Cruises
Trip started out on Sat Sept 13. Excellent flight from EWR to AMS to VIE on Northwest and then partner KLM cityhopper. Viking was at the gate to meet us and bring us to the transfer company. Upon arriving at the pier, we were told that the Spirit could not make it past Passau and the Pride could not make it up past there, so all passengers were "switching" for 3 days and would then board their original ships for the rest of the cruises. Nothing else was mentioned about delays or changes and nobody thought to ask.
Day 1 (Sun) Vienna partial day
Balance of the day after arriving, we visited the zoo and the gardens at Schobrunn, just outside the zoo. Very nice displays. Beautiful gardens. Very easy to get on the underground from the pier and get to the zoo or anywhere else in Vienna. Evening consisted of information from cruise director on the layout of ship, how things work, etc. Normal first day infomercials.
Day 2 (Mon) Vienna full day
The morning offered a bus tour of the city. Don't remember much of it. Your normal 2 hour or so bus ride with a few stops here and there and a guide telling about the history of the city and the various landmarks. The afternoon was free and we once again took the underground to St. Stephens and looked at the cathedral, the glass museum and other things in that area. After dinner, there was an optional Mozart and Strauss concert. This was about 44 Euro and included transportation from/to the ship as well as champagne at intermission. During the afternoon at St. Stephens, there were many people selling what appeared to be similar concerts for that evening, some as little as 15 Euros. You would have to get there and back yourself, but ends up a lot cheaper. Do not know anyone from ship who did this, so cannot compare them. Overall, we were happy with the concert for the price.
Day 3 (Tue) Vienna - Durnstein- Melk
Walking tour of Durnstein. Very small town. Excellent guide. Too bad we did not get much free time here. Excellent castle ruins at top of hill. Accessible from middle of city via dirt/rock path which is well marked. About 15-20 minutes each way if you're hussling. Great views of surrounding area. Worth going up there. Also bought some "jacob" wine from local vintner in a small store. Let us sample some first before buying anything.
Afternoon was spent in Melk visiting the Abbey. Good tour and more wine available. Outside as you head for buses, there is a small shop that sells same wine for 2-4 Euro less than inside. Most bottles less than 10 Euro. Ended up cheaper to bring our own bottles to Viking Restaurant and pay the 7.50 corkage fee rather than non-local stuff Viking offers. If you get lucky and there is no corkage fee, you really come out ahead. After we left the Abbey, we took the 3.5 hour bus trip to Staubing where the Spirit was waiting for us. (yeah)
Day 4 (Wed) Passau. Spent the morning in Passau. Nice older city. Walking tour of city. As started to be the case, too much talking, not much walking and not much ground covered. Organ concert at St. Stephen's Cathedral (different one than Vienna, but related) at noon. It gets packed, so go in when they tell you to, around 11:30. Concert was exceptional. I believe this is the biggest organ in Europe, possibly the world. My notes don't indicate this, so I'm going by memory. There is also a castle "in town", but the lack of time precluded going over there. Having a box lunch and/or more time would have allowed the exploration of it. Or skip the organ concert.
Tip -- right near Cathedral is local market. Can buy local beers for under 1 Euro each. We bought 3 each and had some on bus and some for room later in trip. Better than Becks and Bud that Viking serve. (ask for ice bucket at bar and keep refilling with free ice) And bring a bottle opener and/or cork screw to make life easier.
Sailed to Regensburg in the late PM. First real cruising.
Day 5 (Thur) Regensburg.
Arrived in town early enough previous evening to walk around town for a couple of hours. Very nice area, lots of older buildings. Gorgeous lit up at night. Too bad did not bring cameras. Did not do Viking tour in AM. Decided to wonder around on our own. Visited Cathedral, crossed old stone bridge and went to Steam ship museum. Very nice displays. All in German though. You basically just walk around until you are done. Worth going over if you like old ships and shipping history.
In PM, took 15 minute bus ride to Liberation hall. Tall roman style building with 186 steps to the top. It's actually 3 levels. First is about 20 steps to main rotunda. Then about 80 steps to mid-level and finally another 80+ steps to top which is actually on outside. Excellent views of entire valley from the top. Worth the climb if you are physically able.
Tip: There were quite a few stops where the cruise director kept telling people it was too rough, uneven, hilly, etc and people with walking problems should not go. Some they were correct, most others there were ways to get around that. If you really want to go, ask more questions. Can you get a cab, a small mini-van, etc. In some places, they had enough people needing this assitance, that they got them up there in a small motorized vehicle.
From here, we bussed to Weltenburg Abbey. They still make beers here and are available at the Abbey or outside from vendors. Price is the same either place. The Abbey is under major reconstruction (as are many of the cathedrals we visited on the trip), so there isn't much to look at inside or out. Normally there is a river cruise from the Abbey down the gorge, which then meets the ship before it sails for Kelheim. Due to low water levels, these cruises were not running. We just sat at the Abbey for 2 hours killing time (and for some drinking the excellent Abbey brews). Not a great use of time.
About 4:45 PM (we were leaving around 5:00) some people found out the gorge boats were running again. They talked Viking into letting whomever could get to the dock in 5 minutes go and would pick them up at the end as normally happens. Unless you were in the 8-10 people standing right there, you missed out. My wife and I had already found a small wooden boat privately owned and paid them 5 euros to take us for a 30 minute ride down the gorge and back, so we passed on the longer tour. We also found out later that Viking also paid for this boat for those lucky enough to go. Needless to say, there were a number of upset people later on when all this came to light. There was no effort on Viking part to get more people on that boat ride.
Day 6 (Fri) Nurmberg.
Ship arrived at 8:30 instead of 10:00 AM. Without the Abbey gorge cruise, we should have left sooner the previous day to give people the whole day in Nurmberg. We headed out via Taxi once the ship docked. Saw the toy museum (so-so) and the "beautiful fountain". It's really called this, but it's in the center of a market and there was a flea market going on. Walked around that area until it was time to head back to ship for lunch. And found more wine for under 5 euros in the market place. Cab from ship cost 10-12 euros.
After lunch, took Viking bus tour of city. Made some stops at famous places that Hitler used for his speeches and where the original air ships made their landings. Interesting stuff, but once again, too much talking by guides and not enough time to explore. Nurmberg is a huge city, so exploring by foot was not possible. There could have been time to look at the places they took us instead of a quick off/on the bus. Or left the city sooner to get to Bamberg earlier.
Day 7 (Sat) Bamberg.
Since we were not docking until near noon, they gave some basic German lessons on board. Helped explain how certain letters are pronounced. Also had Fruhschoppen (sausage sandwiches and beers) in the lounge just before lunch. Since we were full from this, we passed on the Viking tour and did our own thing (again). Got to Domplatz in time to see the local Cathedral and get another organ concert. This one was not as big, but sounded great also. Concert started at noon. Do not know if they always do this. Looked around the town for a while, but being Saturday and gorgeous weather, tons of people were out and it was crowded. Headed to the Holograph museum/exhibit. Not many people go here and we got a private tour by the owner/creator including his design studio. Nothing fancy, but it was interesting to see how he makes the exhibits. Definitely worth the 3.10 euro it cost.
Day 8 (Sun) Rothenburg and Wurzburg.
AM spent in Rothenburg. Being Sunday, we could not get into the Cathedrals. Did hike up to top of tower in center of town. Cost is 1 euro and the view is worth it. You only pay if you make it to the top. If you don't there isn't much to see on way up, since it's all inside. Tower gets narrower and narrower as do the stairs. It's basically one way up or down, with people having to step aside here and there. There was a crime museum and another tower/wall to expore, but we spent too much time in the overpriced Katy Wohlfahrts christmas store, so ran out of time. (Right near the tower, there is another store selling lots of same stuff ofr 1/4 price of Katy. Look around for it, do not know name)
Lunch in Restaurant was OK, but with it being in the 80s all week and no A/C, it got hot quickly. Next was a 45 minute ride to Wurzburg. We went through a place call "The Residence". Very nice tour, but of course guides talked way too much. 20 minutes per room. We went off on our own to see many rooms most did not see. Did hook up with tour at end to go into the "better rooms" only allowed into with guides. We got the best of both worlds. There is an excellent tour book available in gift shop for 3 euros at end that is worth buying. Would have been nice to have another couple of hours to explore more of Wurzburg, but that wasn't available.
Day 9 (Mon) Wertheim. This turned out to be the best day so far. Did our own thing right from the dock. Excellent castle right in town, close to where ship docked. Opens at 10:00 AM. We got there earlier and walked all around it. Then went to glass blowing exhibit, where he needed a volunteer. After a shot of Jagermeister I got to blow an ornament and keep it as a souveneir. That was awesome and easy to do. After this, we hiked back up to the castle and explored. 50 cents euro admission, well worth it. Views from top of either side are worth the climb up. Leave about 45 minutes to an hour depending on how fast you can go and how much you like to see. This was one of the few towns we got enough time to do all we wanted. In town, there are a number of very reasonably priced wine stores. We bought a few more bottles, including the Franconian variety for dinner. All were under 7 euros.
Afternoon was spent cruising. With the weather in the 80s and sunny, most people were up on the sun deck. This was a good time to break out some of the new wine and/or the beers from earlier in the trip since we weren't going exploring until the AM at earliest. Nothing exciting, but very nice stretch of river and a great day to be up on top.
At 6:28 PM, they called an "emergency meeting" for 6:30 PM which turned out to be the info that we could not make it to Mainz that night, but were going to Frankfurt. It was hard for everyone to believe that they only found out they could not make it to Mainz in the past hour. Someone, whether the home office or the captain should have or must have known this for at least a few days. Some people got pretty upset and that was the main conversation at dinner for everyone. Morning brought calmness as people got over it. It was more of the "Don't ask, I won't tell you" that this cruise seemed all about. I believe most people knew there was a chance of not getting a full cruise based on previous messages on various internet sites.
Day 10 (Tue) Frankfurt (Mainz)
Decided to skip the tour of Mainz (1 hour bus ride away) and looked around Frankfurt. Decided to see the zoo. About 20 minute walk from the ship. Lots of animals and an excellent aquarium display. I felt like I was diving in the Pacific Ocean. Lion fish, sea horses, pipe fish, etc. Awesome display. Could have stayed there for hours. Came back to ship for lunch.
Afternoon, Viking arranged a 1 hour bus tour to show us the sights right around the main part of Frankfurt. It was basically a "walking tour" using a bus as we didn't cover more than 8 square blocks. Easier than walking though. Guides gave good info and then took those that wanted to see more of the "old city" a walking 20 minute tour. Overall decent for a hastily put together tour, but not what we came to see.
Day 11 (Rudesheim and Rhine Cruise)
This is the portion of the Rhine that they talk about in the brochures. Lots of vineyards on the slopes, castles every mile or so. Beautiful part of the river. Again, Viking got a quickly put together (or so it seemed) 4 hour cruise from Boppard to Rudeshiem. It was a 2 hour bus trip to Boppard, then the cruise started. It was only for Viking people, so a ship that held about 300 only had about 120 on board. They also served lunch on board. Arrived in Rudeshiem around 2:50 instead of 2:30 as planned, so it cut into the time to look around there.
Went to the mechanical music museum which had some very interesting pieces we'd never seen before. Most of them they gave some quick demonstrations. Amazingly clever how some of these worked to simulate a whole band playing from 1 instrument, like an old player piano. Went from there to the wine tasting. It was OK, but would have skipped this to do the tram ride to top of mountain if we knew wines were not that good. No time left to do much shopping since we were running late. If there was enough time, the ones that took the tram said it was worth it.
Day 12 (Frankfurt to Amsterdam)
This was the dreaded 7+ hour bus ride day. They were going to make a stop in Cologne to see the cathedral, then have lunch, then continue to Amsterdam. They left at 8:30, stopped at the Cathedral for about 20 minutes (there was a service going on, so they could not really get into it) and arrived in Amsterdam around 6:20 PM. Long day.
We (and a number of others) opted to take the fast (ICE) train. Took just under 4 hours. Cost was between 58 and 72 euros depending on how many went and to where. Some people who booked just 2 tickets paid close to 72 euros each. We were going to Amsterdam as 4 people, so it was 64 euros (and 6 buying together get an even cheaper price). My wife and I were actually going to Delft, so believe it or not, buying 4 tickets from Frankfurt to Delft with a stop in Amsterdam lowered the cost to 58 euros each (go figure). Train ride was great. Lots of room. Coffee/meal car, reclining seats, lots of leg room. You could walk around also if you wanted. Good way to travel. Worth the extra money we paid over taking the bus. Everyone had time to look around Amsterdam before Viking buses (and luggage) showed up. They put us up at Renaissance and provided a nice steak dinner.
Day 13 (Amsterdam)
Had nice buffet breakfast at Renaissance hotel and then left for airport. Hotel was offering a fixed cab fare of 38 euros to airport. Actual cost on meter ended up being about 46 euros. Close, but a better deal. No need to pay Viking $70 US for 2 people for airport transfer. If you don't have a lot of luggage to drag around, the train will go from near the pier to the airport for about 3.10 euro each way. Renaissance was only 2 blocks from train station also.
That was our trip. Hope there were enough details to help those traveling there in the near future. Hopefully not too much to put most people to sleep.
Food - Excellent. Gabriel & crew did an outstanding job.
Waiters and Waitresses - Excellent. We mainly had Monika and Dana. If you're on Viking Spirit, look for them.
Cruise Director - Hard to judge. Was the lack of communication her fault or the home office. We'll probably never know. She gets the glory when it works or the boos in this case when things fail.
Captain - Awful. At one point, leaving the bridge, he ran straight into a glass door without hitting the button to open it. Didn't really seem in control. Always found at bar with some kind of drink in his hand. Drowning his sorrows at the lousy summer they have had?
Total Cruise Experiance - Good. While not quite as planned due to the river levels, we did manage to see at least 90% of what was listed in the brochures. Hard to really take fault with completing that much.
Would we cruise with Viking again? Probably, especially if they offered us 2 for 1.