Viking Helvetia Trip
Ian Warren – 10-04-2013 – Viking River Cruises – Helvetia
We were met at Basle airport for a quick transfer to the Helvetia. First impressions were that she looked really nice, and well maintained. As we could not get to our cabins straight away, Viking arranged to take us to look at one of each grade so that we would know how they differed. There were basically three types of cabins, starting with those on deck one which had a half height window, as much of the cabin was below the waterline. On deck two the cabins had a full height window, and on deck three there were sliding patio doors with the handrail. Whereas we had expected to get the cabins on deck one (£645 for the three nights including flights), we were given the top grade cabins on deck three (£1,065 for the three nights). Whatever the grade, the cabins were well furnished and a very good size.
After a buffet lunch we all headed into Basle for some sightseeing, which involved some laughter while Neil tried to work out how the tram ticket machines worked, and then fed in numerous coins to get the correct tickets. A really nice town centre and well worth a look.
Back at the ship we got our cabins and got ready for dinner. Captain's welcome champagne had to be drunk before we could head to dinner. The food was of a very high quality, and the wine flowed freely.
While drinks are not included in the cruise price they do offer a drinks package. For this three night cruise a drinks package could be purchased onboard for 75 euros, which represented excellent value.
Sunday 11th April 2010
We arrived in Kehl for 7.00am, and after breakfast set off on a coach tour of Strasbourg. One of the stops was very interesting as there were storks nesting on the top of every tree along the avenue. We were then taken by a very knowledgeable guide for a walk around the city centre. We had been given small receivers to hang around our neck, with an earpiece. These were really good as it meant we could hear every word the guide said, even when we were some way away from her. Strasbourg is a beautiful city and the walk, which included the cathedral, was very interesting. We then had a bit of free time, to sample a lovely hot chocolate in one of the local cafes, before heading back to the ship.
At 1.00pm we set sail while enjoying a nice lunch in the restaurant, although a buffet was also available in the lounge. The journey to Speyer went past some beautiful scenery, and we arrived at 8.00pm. After dinner it was decided that we would take the short walk into town, and there was a large firework display in progress. It seemed that it was the last day of one of the frequent festivals, and there was a large funfair in town. Some of the more adventurous members of the group tried out the fast rides, before we all headed off to a bar to try out the local brew. We then strolled back to the ship for a nightcap before bed.
Monday 12th April
The ship sailed at 3.45am and arrived in Mainz at 8.30am. After breakfast we all headed off on a walking tour of the town, and again the guide used the transmitter system, so that we could all listen in easily. The tour included the Gutenberg museum, and the cathedral, as well as leaving a bit of time for looking around the shops and to have a coffee.
After lunch we set sail at 2.15pm, and then headed for the lounge where they were giving a demonstration on how to make Rudesheimer Coffee with the local brandy. It would have been rude not to try one of the samples!
We were then sailing through the middle Rhine, and although it was quite chilly on deck, the scenery was spectacular, and we saw the Lorelei rock.
At 5.30pm we had a short meeting with Neil giving us some information about Viking, and the new 2011 brochure. Adele also talked to us about ACE, and the benefits of working towards Ambassador status.
We arrived in Konigswinter at 8.30pm, while we were having dinner, but didn't go ashore, choosing instead to have a few drinks in the lounge listening to Bill playing the keyboard.
Tuesday 13th April
Having sailed at 6.30am, we arrived in Cologne after breakfast at 8.30am. We were only there for 2 hours, which was enough time for a guided tour of the city.
We then sailed at 10.30am, and as we had to be out of our cabins by 11.30am, we all went to the lounge for 'rhenish fruhschoppen', which was basically an early buffet lunch of carved ham, pork, ribs and salad, served with a local beer.
We arrived in Dusseldorf at 1.30pm, and by 2.00pm we were on the coach for the short drive to the airport, for our flight back to Heathrow.
This was our first experience of river cruising, and we had a great time, thanks to the hospitality and organisation. More importantly we have a far better understanding of the benefits offered by a river cruise. While it perhaps wouldn't suit a lot of ocean cruisers, who like the big ships with a great variety of entertainment, there is obviously a big market for it. Some of the main features with Viking include: -
- Relaxed informal cruising
- Fantastic scenery on both sides of the ship at nearly all times
- Excursions included in the cost of the cruise
- Free 24 hour drinks station, with tea, coffee, cappuccino, iced tea, water, as well as fresh fruit
Free wireless internet throughout the ship, although the speed was a bit slow and the signal was prone to dropping, depending on where the ship was
As well as the large lounge and bar, there was also a large well stocked library at the rear of the ship, other seating areas, and also the full length roof deck for sunbathing