Travel agents are competitive!
I attended an event hosted by Viking River Cruises in Columbus, and over 250 agents were competing against each other to test their knowledge of Viking’s itineraries!
My team of 10 agents received a perfect score! It turns out that all my training to complete Viking’s Specialist Courses proved that we are pros at itineraries, ships & destinations! This picture shows me on stage to receive a certificate for a discounted cruise.
I chose the Rhine River in Germany! Now, I have visited this region before…. and LOVED it! So let’s go back and experience it from a different perspective, this time on a river cruise. I’m excited to experience my first river cruise, and can’t wait to talk to travels about it.
We are doing our river cruise with Viking, and their reps were waiting for guests to arrive at the airport just outside the doors into the arrivals area. It was very easy to spot them in their red jackets and backpacks. Plus we saw other river cruise lines picking up their guests, so if you include arrival transfers, they make it easy for you when you get to the airport and need a shuttle to your hotel (or ship).
Look who’s here!!! 😀 For the first time in two weeks we get to see each other! And what’s the first thing on our agenda… drag him through Amsterdam to see the city even though he was tired from jetlag! A few hours of exploring in the late morning was enough before taking a short nap at the hotel in the afternoon. Jet lag is real! And this is how I suggest to get your internal clock adjusted.
There are 4 times the amount of bicycles in Amsterdam than cars, with over 880,000 bikes! So when they tell you to beware of the bikes while walking and crossing the roads, they mean it! And the infrastructure is impressive, with bike paths next to nearly every road and sidewalk in the city (except for some of the smaller side streets along the narrow canals). Even when it’s cold and rainy, biking is their preferred method of transportation.
I visited here 7 years ago and LOVED this city, and it continues to be one of my all-time favorites! Just look at these uniquely shaped facades. These stunning narrow houses line most of the streets and tilt and lean in all directions. Amsterdam’s canals form about 90 islands that are connected by 1,500 bridges, and I am 100% in love with this scenery as I walk around this historical downtown area.
A cruise along the canals is a touristy thing to do, but this is a relaxing way to see the city. Plus, it gives you a different perspective as you cruise along the various canals of the city. And since Amsterdam’s canal ring is an UNESCO World Heritage Site, you can say that you spent an hour “on” this historic site.
Yup, we had to see it. Here are the infamous red lights of Amsterdam. I didn’t include them in this photo, but each window features a pretty (or not-so-pretty) girl just waiting to be visited. This area has an unconventional vibe to it, but the streets are clean and the area feels safe. Think of walking through our “sin city” of Vegas, but here different things are acceptable and legal.
The Viking Kvasir is our home for the first part of our journey. Due to low water levels after a historically dry summer, we will be swapping ships mid-trip to the Viking Idi, an identical ship with the same features. The Viking staff is well-equipped to handle this transition and has been terrific at relaying information to guests and fielding all of the (repeat) questions that guests are asking.
This is NOT your typical ocean cruise ship! The amount of onboard entertainment doesn’t compare with a large ocean ship, but we manged to entertain ourselves with the putting green on our afternoon of cruising down the river. With temperatures in the 40s the past several days, this deck isn’t being used much! But it has numerous lounge chairs and open spaces to take in the views, especially on the cruises during with nicer summer weather.
Much of the Netherlands is below sea level, especially the low-lying coastal areas. But these lands are very important for farming. So back in the 1700s, windmills were designed to help scoop water from the lower lands, into reservoirs, which then emptied into the rivers. The Kinderdijk area is famous for its 19 windmills that are still standing and operational. Visiting them is a unique experience!
Most of our itinerary feature full days at port in iconic cities and towns, but our first day featured a full afternoon and evening of sailing down the river. It’s a relaxing atmosphere onboard, with plenty time to sit back and enjoy the scenery.
We were allowed inside the wheelhouse to meet the Captain and learn how the ship is navigated! This was an interesting experience and I enjoyed interacting with the Captain. While he was talking this us, the ship was being “driven” by the First Mate, who was a female. From the way she was introduced to us, it seemed uncommon for females to be in this position.
The Cologne Cathedral dominates the skyline of this city. At the time it was built, it was the tallest building in the world. The city of Cologne, or Koln as it’s spelled locally, was once ruled by the Roman Empire, and this Gothic cathedral was constructed over the course of approximately 700 years, with different time periods interrupting the rule of the Roman Catholic church.
A narrow spiral staircase takes you to the upper spires of the Cologne Cathedral! The view of the city isn’t too impressive, but seeing up close the detailed work on these large spires is definitely worth climbing the steps!
Lock your love with a padlock and throw away the key! That’s the concept behind love locks. And the Hohenzollernbrucke Bridge has THOUSANDS, if not millions, of love locks lining both sides of its walkways. The locks alone add over 2 tons of weight to the bridge! It’s an impressive sight.
What a foggy morning! The castle finally broke through the fog for a few minutes to snap the photo above. Our tour covered more ground than I was expecting – we got to see about a dozen different rooms throughout this not-so-glamorous castle. Why do I say that? With walkways carved out of the natural stones of the hillside, and the buildings standing as it has since the 13th century, this was a flashback into the actual life and hardships of the time.
The Middle Rhine is one of most scenic regions of Germany. This stretch of the river is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is beautiful! The steep hills are lined with vineyards and dotted with castles. Small villages are tucked in where the space allows. Our guide relayed the stories about many of the castles – stories filled with drama, family disputes, and love quarrels.
Look how much rock is exposed! These rocks are usually under the water, but the river levels are so low because of the drought this area experienced during the summer. Cruise ships unfortunately couldn’t sail through this scenic part of the Rhine River, but Viking handled this perfectly! They arranged a smaller boat for us so that were able to take in the scenery, and even enjoy a lunch while we were onboard.
This was better than I thought it’d be. Much of this large castle is in ruins, so the tour is mainly outdoors, but still worth it! It was built in the 13th century, and its red sandstone cannot be missed from the town that sits below along the river. Very scenic, and even more impressive visiting it up close.
What a picturesque town! I loved this view of from the castle overlooking the rooftops. Is the name of Heidelberg ringing a bell to you Ohioans? This Heidelberg is the home to Germany’s oldest university town, founded in 1386. Back in the 1800s many Germans immigrants were in Ohio, hence the same university name back home. The two colleges can brag about having the oldest exchange program between an American university and German university.
Food and beer are a part of German culture. Here is the inside of a brauhaus where we enjoyed a private lunch for everyone onboard the cruise. Unfortunately I took the photo AFTER we were done eating, but you can see by the mess on the tables that we thoroughly enjoyed the regional specialties, just like Oma used to make! And with the wooden walls and stunning decor, this restaurant truly topped off our experience in Heidelberg.
Strasbourg is located on the border of France and Germany, and has actually changed affiliation multiple times over the years. Our guide told us that it changed countries 4 times over her grandparent’s life! This photos is one of my favorites, of the picturesque area of Petite France. I LOVE the half-timber houses of this region, and combined with canals, these may be some of my favorite photos from the trip.
Our ship was parked across the river from this large park that had two pedestrian bridges crossing the bridge at both ends of the park, linking both Germany and France. We couldn’t complete the first geocache due to hobos under the bridge. And another was thwarted due to a shady guy, but we managed to get 3 of them! 🙂
Kissing across borders! We took turns being in Germany and France, and even standing equally in both counties. This may have been the hardest selfie to line up! Cory stood like that for awhile while I tried to line everything up… poor guy! And the goofy lips make me laugh! Love this.
About an hour’s drive from the river, and we were up into the think forests that are fabled in this part of Germany. We took a short stroll into the beautiful landscape, with a path that paralleled a small cascading stream. Not going to lie – getting here was a bit rough due to the motion sickness that I was experiencing in the bus. But the walk allowed me to clear my head and enjoy the beautiful landscapes.
Welcome to the land of cuckoo clocks! 🙂 I was in awe with the detail of these clocks when I visited southern Germany years ago, and I once again couldn’t keep my eyes off these! Between the cuckoo clocks, beer steins, wooden Christmas decorations, and the stunning pieces from the glassblowing shop, I could easily turn shopping into a hobby! I did walk away with a couple small pieces of souvenirs from this region, but unfortunately, no cuckoo clock.
The brochure described this optional trip to Colmar as “a canal-lined medieval gem” and this was a GREAT surprise! The area was heavily impacted during WWII, but we opted for the tour that wasn’t as focused on the war context. The best part was that the town had already started to decorate for Christmas. Lights and decorations were up on several buildings, and some stores even had their trinkets on display. Christmas markets are AMAZING throughout Europe and this was just a teaser.
The Lion of Lucerne is carved into the cliff and represents the Swiss Guards that were killed during the French Revolution in 1792. The lion is mortally wounded and protecting the lilies of France. Mark Twain describes this 30-foot-long sculpture as “the most mournful and moving piece of stone in the world.”
The iconic Kapellbrucke, or as we know it Chapel Bridge, was one of our first visits on our guided tour of the city. It’s Europe’s oldest wooden covered bridge, with the original bridge dating back to 1365. Some of its original paintings somehow survived several alterations over the years, including a fire in 1993 that destroyed a large portion, which of course was rebuilt.
The fog lifted! And this was our view of Lake Lucerne from the front of our hotel. What a view! The surrounding mountain peaks of the Swiss Alps absolutely took my breath away! Need I say more? Except for the fact that this picture doesn’t do it justice.
Mount Stanserhorn is on the other side of the lake and features a convertible-style cable car that takes you close to the summit (where you can finish it with a 10 minute walk). But first, you ride a trolley to get to the cable car loading area. The journey to the top only takes 6 and a half minutes. Today was VERY foggy and almost immediately we entered the clouds for some “stunning” views!
We took the cable car to the top and hiked the 10-minute journey to the summit. And then spent the next 3+ hours hiking 4.4 miles down the narrow paths of the trail, descending 4910 feet, at a 19.7% grade. What an impressive terrain! Rocky narrow ridges were at the start of the journey, mostly through thick fog. Then about half-way down, we reached trees that were beautiful fall colors. The final stretch was through farmland… my favorite! The cowbells could be heard for miles up the hill. LOVED IT! HIGHLIGHT OF THE TRIP!
Yay! We found a geocache and placed our love lock on the bridge just behind the cache, out of site. But, since it’s not a traditional place for a lock, I’m sure that it’ll be cut off the moment that it’s discovered. Oh well! We loved the location, and that’s all that matters. 🙂
A local guide met us at each destination for our included tour, and they were great! Knowledgeable, friendly, and with easy-to-understand English. I was definitely impressed by the quality of local guides we received.
From the time you arrive until the time you depart, your luggage is taken care of for you! This picture was taken as we divided up and left the cruise ship… a well-organized system that was easy to trust in.
Absolutely impressive! I couldn’t find a single fault with the staff on board. We got to experience two different crews, and they were experts at their jobs and polite.
Eat eat eat… all we did was eat! I referred to the waitstaff as the Cinderella Crew because all they did was set up for a meal, clean up a meal, and repeat.
I feared that the bathrooms would be too small! And while they are small, they are cleverly designed so that the space seems bigger than it actually is. I was very happy with the bathrooms onboard! Very nice!
The buses took us into the cities, on our excursions, or even assisted with the ship swap. They were large, comfortable, had a bathroom onboard, and the drivers were terrific at navigating the narrow roads.
Yes! I refer to these lower river-level rooms as “swan view rooms” and we actually saw them! This was the view outside of our window one morning.
My favorite part of the ship, which is an alternative location for dinner. In the summer months, the windows open into a larger dining area.
Trivia night, a piano man, local musicians, cooking demonstrations, enrichment lectures, a daily cocktail party… the ship offered something every evening.
The ship had to pass through a series of locks throughout the journey. We went up to the sundeck to watch the experience in one of the locks.
We were given a packet each day that outlined our itinerary, along with maps, emergency info, our boarding passes, and a recap of the news back home.
Of course the ship will have slower wifi speeds than we are accustomed to back home, BUT most of the time it barely worked, which was disappointing. Here is their business center if you needed to connect directly.
The ship was docked within a short walk to the city center, or within a short walk to the buses that drove you into the city.
A special treat awaited those with a birthday while onboard! Of course they sang to you, but with cake!
The main desk was very well organized! Here’s their system for making sure that you’re onboard, and to assign you to your daily included excursions.
Our hotels both before and after the cruise were centrally located in the cities, and VERY nice.
We spent extra time in both before and after our cruise, and a representative was available in both hotels to help us make the most of our time there.
The ship’s Program Director was at the bus to greet us when we arrived to the ship!
Fly for $299!* from select US cities on select 2020 Europe river cruises with Avalon Waterways. Plus save up to $1000 per couple on your cruise.
ends April 30, 2019
Save $200, $300, $1000 or $1500 per couple on select 2019 and 2020 Europe river cruises with Avalon Waterways
ends April 30, 2019
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