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sumiandkage

Trip report- Generation X goes a Viking from Basel to Amsterdam

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I'll say up front I never had any particular interest in cruising- it just seemed to be too structured for my taste. But when my parents suggested doing a river cruise with the kids for their 50th anniversary, I channeled the words of the immortal Carrie Fisher 'If George Lucas offers to put your head on a Pez dispenser, do it!' and ended up as part of a travel party with my parents, my Spousal Unit and my sister the vegetarian volksmarcher  for a June trip of the Viking Ulur. I was going to go into the experience with an open mind and a determination to maximize fun. 

 

Pre-cruise- we went through the  Viking Air option that let you pick your own flights and alternate airports because my home airport- VPS- tends toward expensive air fare and the Viking option was significantly cheaper than booking flights on our own. I'm chasing status this year, and got the same Delta MQMs for the ticket I'd get on any other V class ticket from them. 

 

Spousal Unit asked to do a few days in Switzerland beforehand and since he was even more ambivalent about cruising than I was, I wanted to find someplace special for him. After some research, I decided on the Jungfrau region of Bernese Oberland. So we set up our tickets to fly into Zurich since it let us do a single connection to get there instead of a double one with plans to take trains from there to Lauterbrunnen. The flights to Switzerland were uneventful, but we did have some issues with the normally reliable and pleasant Swiss rail system. We had unknowingly planned a travel day on a public holiday and every train was slammed with folks who were making a long weekend of it and enjoying one of the first really good weather periods of the season. We actually had strangers apologizing to us about how the experience as 'Not Swiss!' and all you can really do is shrug and say it will be a story to remember when we're n the old folks home. 

 

Despite the train issues, the Jungfrau region really does live up to its reputation as one of the most beautiful places on the planet, our hotel room at the Hotel Oberland had a perfect view of Staubbach Falls, and there were enough trails that were snow-free at that point that we could have lots of fun exploring the region. Since neither of us eat red meat and the  Spousal Unit has to avoid fried food and hot peppers, the restaurant scene in theory should have seemed limiting after a while, but when you're sitting at a restaurant on the cliffs at Murren looking at paragliders soar in front of the mountains, it's easy to get through yet another margherhita pizza for lunch. 

 

With regret and plans to get back there someday, preferably in August when all the trails were open and with a condo/chalet rental option so we could cook for ourselves some of the time we did some laundry in Lauterbrunnen and headed toward Basel to meet up with the rest of the family. (My parents were doing Viking's pre-cruise option in Basel while my sister had spent a week rambling through the German Alps.) Since we were past the typical return date for the public holiday, there was plenty of open space for ourselves and our bags on the trains to Basel. 

 

We decided to walk to our hotel,  the Motel One (a well-regarded German 'budget design' chain) in the center of town rather than take the tram since it seemed close and after a few wrong turns because Google and Apple Maps aren't great at picking up on closures due to ongoing construction, met up with my sister and my parents that had come over from the cruise hotel. We did a little emergency shopping to replace a forgotten camera battery charger, and had a really good dinner at the Union Diner. The menu is a fairly simple list of beef, chicken, and veggie burgers with a few sides, but everything they do, they do well. 

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Great start! I'm impatient to read more of  your journey

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Cruise Day 1- we got up to a text from the volksmarcher that she hadn't really been able to find anyone from Viking who could tell us where our ship was, but that she had found it during a morning walk. So after breakfast, we figured out the tram route (you get a free  public transportation ticket in Basel with any hotel stay) and went to drop off out bags at the ship, which seemed to be docked in the vicinity of Austria. The volksmarcher expressed very understandable annoyance at Viking's lack of communication and failure to have some sort of an app for river cruises. I concurred. I mean if Delta can tell me by text and app that my gate for my connecting flight had been moved three times in 10 minutes and will now be a 87 gates away from where I though it was, Viking should have a way of telling us which of three docks they were using without us having to call in and hope their customer service had started for the day. 

 

We met Victor our program director at bag drop and I think he was the best employee on the ship-tireless, friendly and always working hard to give guests a great and seamless experience. Viking needs to clone him.  Afterwards, we met back up with my parents at their hotel room for some museum time and lunch. We stumbled across the single best meal of the trip at the Foundation Beyeler restaurant- it's one of those places where they constantly change the menu based on what was fresh and local that day and I'm not entirely sure what I got from what was described as 'vegan' and some sort of pastry but it was a delightful experience. We went through the museum after than and then my parents and sister headed over to the ship while we wanted to hit another museum before boarding. 

 

And the Kunstmuseum Basel gets our vote as best museum experience on the trip. Yes, the bag check policies are a little on the strict side, but that's in part because they've got a really impressive collection and it wasn't crowded at all so you could just go commune with the Monet and Van Gough works for as long as the museum was open with only a docent or guard occasionally circulating through that section of the room. With regret we wouldn't get to spend more time in Basel, which seemed to be a very underrated sort of place, we headed back to the ship in the middle of 30C weather, actually stopping off an overly hot tram at one point to try to get a little bit of a break. We also did a quick trip into a Migros grocery store not too far from the dock to pick up a few sodas-neither of us would have made good value from Viking's drinks package- and other snacks and finally got into our room for a quick shower before dinner. 

 

The hard product on the Ulur is very nice-brand new, and making the most of small cabin and common spaces. Water pressure is perfect, and the sound-proofing level is excellent enough to not really hear engine noise or anyone running on the top walking deck.  The company has taken notes of what does and doesn't work and made such things a consideration in their new generation fo ships.  Though there were still a few bugs to be worked out like smart tvs that tended to have one to multiple channels non-functional. 

 

And then we were on to port talk followed by dinner. Most of the time, we were happy with the food and would call it good and tasty though the volksmarcher wished that the vegetarian options would have contained more fruit and vegetable rather than relying so much on starch and cheese. The Spousal Unit defaulted to the 'Always Available' chicken option at most dinners and he was happy enough with that though the lack of diversity isn't for me. 

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Day 2- the Black Forest. Even with the long bus time, we opted for the included Black Forest tour, and actually rather liked it. On our trips together, the Spousal Unit is usually concentrating on driving and I'm usually concentrating on making sure he's aware of correct roundabout lane placement and exits, speed enforcement zones and wildlife and livestock wandering into oncoming traffic so it was nice for both of us to get to really watch the world go by for a change. My parents did the demonstrations around the village while the volksmarcher suggested we take off on our on on the nature trail, which was a really lovely path with waterfall and other rushing stream bits and reminded me of some trails in Olympic National Park. If you're interested in this option bring sturdy shoes that will allow you to do a little light rock scrambling just off the trail to maximize the fun. I actually wish we'd had a little more time here since we only made it as far as the waterwheel on that trail and there were apparently a lot more paths that could have been interesting. Too soon it was back onto the bus so we could do lunch and then we had an afternoon on our own in Breisach. 

 

The volksmarcher decided to march off to the France side of the river for the afternoon, and me, the Spousal Unit and my parents ended up walking into town and up the hill to the church. My parents decided to walk back to the ship at that point, and the Spousal Unit and I ended up walking around the top of the hill more. We came down the hill at a park near a museum and another small port area. And to my amusement, some Guy Things are universal and I found myself the only woman in a small group of people, including the Spousal Unit, who were watching with great interest as some industrial equipment demolished a large liquid storage tank at the port. (Yep, it was one of those unplanned interaction times with locals that some seem to seek out and we just randomly stumble upon) We reconvened for dinner and the video the Spousal Unit took of the tank demolition was met with interest by the rest of the guys close to out table. 

 

And then Day 1 was in the books and it had gone well. 

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Day 2-Straussborg. Our mooring here was a little further out in the park of a million geese (yes, do watch your step after you walk off the boat) and we got on the bus to get into the city. Which turned out to be an extended viewing of different parts of the city and I discovered the down side of the bus tour- I'm just not interested in doing a 20 minute detour to do a 15 second drive by of Strasbourg complex while a guide explains its history and context. For me, this is something I could learn about on my own through a combination of wikipedia and my subscription to The Economist and I'd rather just be turned loose in the city. Which we eventually were. We let the guide know we were going to explore on our own and figure out the meet up time and place by the cathedral.  Since the volksmarcher had actually been to that city as a part of another vacation the previous year, she was able to show some interesting places and overlooks, and we did some shopping and a coffee and croissant stop at the venerable French fast food chain Paul and then made a stop on our own at the cathedral to see church and clock before meeting back up with our bus group.  I actually wish we'd had more time here and could have made it a lunch stop because every single restaurant, cafe, pastry and sweets shop had such wonderful-looking things in the window but we'd used our onboard credits for optional tours that afternoon and we regrettfully headed back to the ship. 

 

For the afternoon, the fellas did the Mercedes plant tour and the women did the wine tasting option. And I'm pretty sure we got the better option. It wasn't that the Mercedes tour was bad; Dad and Spousal Unit said they did enjoy the experience. But it was very much a functional experience of watching a few parts of the assembly process followed by gift shop rather than an immersive experience designed to get you excited about pruchasing one of their vehicles and the description reminded me rather of my Michigan middle school days when a tour of the GM plant was a field trip staple. 

 

I'm not really a drinker and I'm sure the subtleties of the different wine samples were lost on me but I had a lot of fun trying the different things and learning about how wine production is overseen and controlled in France. And after we were done we had another hour or so to explore a cute village near the winery, which was appreciated. 

 

Then it was back for dinner and to compare notes and gossip about another Viking boat that had apparently dropped a propeller, resulting in its passengers getting moved to another boat after a bit of a scramble, and it was eventually time to cll the end of day 3. 

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I am also a volksmarcher, but have never done one in Europe.  Since you specifically mentioned your sister is a volksmarcher, does that come into play in your recounting of your adventures?

 

Roz

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1 hour ago, Roz said:

I am also a volksmarcher, but have never done one in Europe.  Since you specifically mentioned your sister is a volksmarcher, does that come into play in your recounting of your adventures?

 

Roz

 

Oh, it's a thing!  I this was a sarcastic reference to the OCD tendency to plan Bataan Death March-like sightseeing itineraries [like me!]

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22 minutes ago, Host Jazzbeau said:

 

Oh, it's a thing!  I this was a sarcastic reference to the OCD tendency to plan Bataan Death March-like sightseeing itineraries [like me!]

 

Got it!  I call those people Type A volksmarchers.

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2 hours ago, Host Jazzbeau said:

 

Oh, it's a thing!  I this was a sarcastic reference to the OCD tendency to plan Bataan Death March-like sightseeing itineraries [like me!]

 

She's not that OCD but she does love to go on a nice 5-10 mile ramble when she can, typically in the morning before too many other people are up. 

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We did Volksmarches frequently when stationed in Germany; they're fun to get out into the countryside.

 

It's either a 10 or 20 km route, you decide.  $6 or so (10 dm back then?) and you were registered, received a ticket, and off you went.  The route would be on paths or farm roads, as scenic as the region could offer.  You got your ticket stamped along the way, typically with soup broth or tea at the checkpoint.  Somewhere would be the split for the 20 kms one, which was better to clear hangovers.  My spouse would state she was doing the longer one, I could do whatever I wanted, and I would lamely tag along.  

 

At the end, you would get a decorative mug, wine glass or plate.  The steak or sausage sandwiches, ten different types of home made desserts, a beer...it really made for a great start to the day.  All delicious.  A good fun day.

 

Thanks so much for posting this trip report!, very good read, we did this route with Vantage last year.

 

 

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Love your sense of humor! We've been to Switzerland twice on land trips and prior to our upcoming  Avalon Danube cruise we will spend time close to Lucerne as we've not yet been there. Pre-Switzerland we will be close to the Rhine River and are staying close to Riquewehr, which was a highlight for friends of ours who cruised the Rhine on AMA.

 

Can't wait to hear more of your perspective on your river cruise!

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4 hours ago, sumiandkage said:

 

She's not that OCD but she does love to go on a nice 5-10 mile ramble when she can, typically in the morning before too many other people are up. 

 

Oh that's so NOT me then – I don't do early. :classic_biggrin:

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Really great report and I am loving the humour too, although slightly hard to understand as an Australian.  I have never heard of a volksmarcher.

 

The museum in Basel sounds fantastic, unfortunately we only have one day in Basel after our cruise in October and it is a Monday when the museums are all closed.

 

What a shame you didn't have more time in Strasbourg.  We spent five nights there back in January and loved every minute, there was so much to see and do and fantastic food.  TALAalum, we did a day trip to Riquewihr, wow what a gorgeous village, you will love it.

 

Looking forward to the next instalment.

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Love your write up, great sense of humour.  Looking forward to the next installment.   We did the Rhine with Avalon last year, Amsterdam to Basel, so it's interesting to hear Vikings version.

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Day 4- Heidelberg. (I misaligned the days in previous posts, but it was too late to edit them to fix it) In which I started out the day with only a little bit of pastry and coffee for breakfast in order to give my body a bit of a beeak from the rich cruise food, and I'll throw in a bit of foreshadowing to say I'm usually in an 'eat, sleep and pee when it's available' mode on vacation but didn't follow it that morning. The ship dropped us off at Manheim and was going to pick us up further down river for a 12:45 lunch. Our tour guide was also going to be leaving us at Heidelburg rather than going all the way to the next port with us. 

 

On the way in, she dissed Mannheim a little as an uninteresting industrial town that had been entirely rebuilt after WW2. Which seemed a little harsh since I don't regard Europe as some sort of historical theme park that should be stuck in time for my own amusement; I'm also interested in what's happening there in current times. As we approached Heidelberg, the volksmarcher noted that castles often are adjacent to parkland with nice hiking trails and Google Maps said it was only a 20 minute walk down the mountain to the old town area of Heidelberg, so why didn't the three of us kids strike out on our own after the look at the castle as a group. (Note- don't assume the guide will remember you're leaving the group as you exit the bus. Apparently she forgot we'd said that and it took my parents, who were remaining with the bus down the hill, to remind her we'd left and that's why her head count was off) After a nice brief walk through of parts of the castle complex, we headed into the grounds area on our own and discovered that it's one left turn from some really awesome photo opportunities of the exterior of the castle as it's perched over the river valley below. We walked around the park area a little and discovered that Google Maps had lied about the trip down. But fortunately, it was in out favor- there was a marked series of staircases through a residential area that got us down into old town in less than ten minutes, where we had a nice ramble through that part of town, a stop for coffee and soft drinks at a cafe, and then another nice walk along the river where I was mistaken for a German local by someone looking for the tourist information office. Apparently I blend well into the German population. 

 

As we waited for our bus at the aforementioned tourist information office, I picked up a brochure for coming events at the Manheim arena. I'm not surprised a-ha is still touring because they were a perfectly nice 80s band and all, but I am impressed that there are apparently people still willing to pay 100 euros to see them. Then the bus came and we spent time driving. And driving. And driving right past where we were supposed to meet the boat downriver.There was no explanation from the bus drive what was happening. 12:45 passed and there was no indication we would be finding our ship anytime soon. At 1:20 I gave in and broke out the emergency Clif bars from my bag as we discussed that this was another area where our proposed Viking River app could improve communication with their guests by explaining what our new route was supposed to be. At 1:45, we finally met up with the ship and got an apology about how our dock had been changed at the last minute, and then finally lunch. 

 

The afternoon's activity while we were on ship had been described as an opportunity to learn more about other Viking cruise opportunities as we moved down the river. Which might have been a bit harder of a sales job than it had been that morning.  But despite the miscues, I'd discovered some of the pluses of river cruising and that I liked being able to move around the ship in comfort from cabin to sun deck to lounge as we passed through the world of the river. 

 

We stopped at Rudsheim for a few hours that evening, and I confirmed my status as that person in the family who will drag everyone else out of the way to see the world's largest ball of twine by getting way too excited about going up another hill to see a shrine for St Hildegard of Bingen (because she was awesome-check out her wikipedia article for more info) and after some good thoughts toward a woman who did her best to keep the lights on in Europe during dark times, we went back to the ship for dinner and an evening of relaxing.

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Day 5- Koblenz. The day started with another long stretch of beautiful river scenery, and Victor was in his element talking on the pa system about all the different castles and fortresses as we were passing by as well as discussing how the river and castles played into German history and culture with a proper segment on Wagner's Ring Cycle. (The Spousal Unit's father has spent years exposing him to opera in hopes that it would somehow take, so he knows a fair amount about Such Matters) The volksmarcher spent the entire morning going around the walking track during this segment. She got in something like ten miles and I think got herself a little bit of motion sickness in the process. 

 

At lunch, we made a family decision to bail on the included Marksburg Castle tour, figuring that the bus time/attraction ratio probably wasn't what we were looking for, and made our way through where the Koblenz Beer Fest was setting up in the park next to the ship to the place where you could take a cable car across the river to Ehrenbreitstein Fortress, which is very easy to explore on your own for a 15 euro 'combi' ticket for both cable car and fortress & museum complex. (Slight reduction for senior citizens) It's an easy place to spend a fair amount of time. Different parts of the complex serve as a photography museum, a wine bar, an archaeology museum, a special events venue, a lovely rooftop garden area.... and there's a nice adjacent park area with a modern tower to climb for an awesome view of where the rivers meet. After a while, we headed back down to the ship where my parents wanted to spend time relaxing in the lounge while the kids explored more of the town beyond the beer festival grounds, including the river monument and a section of the Berlin Wall as a memorial to the time when there were two German countries instead of one. 

 

Then we were back to the ship for the German night dinner, which turned out to be where things went off track. Unlike for other meals, there was no menu at the door, and when we asked for a menu, we were told there was none because it was a buffet night. Said buffet seemed to be reflect German cuisine from the pre-donner kebab era and consist of mostly pork and beef sausages. The vegetarian volksmarcher and I were able to kind of make it work with spaetzle and bread dumplings but the Spousal Unit, denied his usual chicken and veg from the 'always available' menu, was left to graze on a bit of salad. Yelling over the German folk music on the pa system, the kids discussed fighting through the beer fest crows to go into town and get a pizza, but as we were walking out of the dining room, we noticed that someone at another table had actually managed to pry loose a steak from the 'always available' menu and we decided to try the Aquavit Terrace where the music wasn't so loud and maybe a different server could find the Spousal Unit some chicken or fish. 

 

There was an apology at that point as we explained we'd been told the 'always available' options weren't available when they really were, Spousal Unit got a salmon entree, and then it got weird as some sort of dining manager or head waiter appeared next to our table and started out with a defensive speech ('We try to have our menu reflect local cuisine'). We countered with the dietary needs speech and how a lot of people didn't just want a big plate of sausage for dinner. He countered with a talk about 'always available' menu items and when we explained that we'd been told they weren't there on buffer night, he got outright combative with us, demanding the names of the waiters who had given us incorrect information and refusing to drop it when we said we wanted to drop the issue move on from that point. 

 

Which just left a worse taste in our mouths than the original problem. Mistakes and miscommunications happen, and as I told the assistant manager at the Motel One in Basel a few nights before when he was correcting an overbilling issue for me, the quality of the company comes through in how they fix a problem. In the Motel One's case, it was a sincere-seeming apology and a prompt crediting of 50 CHF back onto my credit card. In Viking's case, the manager seemed to be more interested in punishing a couple of employees than to make the customers right in front of him happy since they just wanted to move on from that point. 

 

On the bright side later that night, I will note that the soundproofing on the Ulur was exceptional enough that night to handle the loudest parts of the beer festival next door and we didn't hear a thing from the festival ground at all. 

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Day 6- onward to Cologne. And then slightly past Cologne to a mooring point is an industrial park just past the city that was maybe a 10-15 minute bus ride over to the main platz. They apparently got the port assignment late, leaving Victor to arrange bus shuttle service at short notice and, save for it would have been nice to have an 8pm or so return to ship option, the shuttle option worked out well. 

 

I'm a sucker for a proper giant old school catherdal, and when I saw the cruise route, Cologne cathedral went right onto the must-see list for me. My family decided to do the DIY approach to exploration again, and since it was Sunday, the cathedral was not open for general wandering until later in the afternoon, so after walking around a little bit in the platz, we went over to the Wallraf-Rochartz art museum for the rest of the morning. It's well-curated and does a good job of explaining the works in English but doesn't quite have the star power of the Kunstmuseum in Basel. We opted to stay in town rather than take the shuttle back to the ship for lunch and opted for the Funkhaus based on the name and a menu that seemed to have options for everyone. It's one of those times when the restaurant could have tried to slide by on location and a catchy name and concept but the owners went beyond that and the food was quite good.  

 

By the time we were finished, the cathedral had started its open hours for the day. One thing to note is that mass there is old school and by old school, I mean that they had broken out the incense that day heavily enough that it still formed a haze inside the building. I was able to tolerate it because the architecture was so very worth it but some others ended up leaving quicker in need of a bit of fresh air. My parents headed back to the ship at that point and my sister decided to go with them, leaving me and the Spousal Unit to further explore. We opted for the Museum Ludwig in large part because it was right next to the cathedral and open for business. I'm not necessarily a big modern art fan but liked this one because it actually does a good job advocating for modern art and explaining its context and relevance, even if this was the point where we started to roll our eyes over seeing yet another batch of Picassos on the trip. This was a nice contrast to some other art museums like Tate Modern where you are somehow expected to intuit the great merit or a carefully placed pile of rubber bands and it you don't immediately get it, you're assumed to be a shoeless rube. 

 

There were two other museums that looked interesting, an archaeology and history one and an applied arts one that looked interesting but were mostly or totally closed to the public in order to rework exhibits and since German shops shut down on Sunday for family time, we were left to just wander around for a while and people watch before we caught out shuttle back to the ship for a pleasant and uneventful dinner.

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Day 7- Kinderdijk. Most of the day was spent cruising. Mom's side of the family is Netherlands Durch and it was cool to see a bit of where her ancestors came from as  natural lands with wild horses and free range cattle along the river gradually gave way to shipyards and other industrial areas that drive the modern Dutch economy. We made port right at the Kinderdijk site around 3:30pm but the tour wasn't supposed to start until 4:30 so we opted to head out early on our own. Which turned out to be a good thing because we actually got to see all the parts of the park we wanted to see at a leisurely pace before closing time. This was pretty much a slow travel take your time kind of day and it was nice to just meander and talk with loved ones as we watched the windmills and birds in the channels and learned more about how the Dutch had claimed their land from the sea. 

 

Dinner that night was followed by Victor showing a disembarkation Power Point slide show on the screen in the lounge followed by a reminder that Viking had left surveys on the cruise in our staterooms and how the company wanted to know in detail what was wrong if we marked anything other than 'exceeds expectations in every way'. Which was the same kind of talk we got from the salesman at the auto dealership we last bought a car from and a point of turnoff. The second turnoff was that the surveys were not anonymous and seemed to have a big section on collecting your information for future cruise opportunities so we skipped the surveys. 

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Enjoyed the trip report since we are doing the same cruise in reverse.  

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As a Gen Xer who likes to be do your own thing most of the time, what was your overall impression of river cruising?

 

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16 hours ago, Beckybuu said:

As a Gen Xer who likes to be do your own thing most of the time, what was your overall impression of river cruising?

 

Jumping in as a fellow Gen Xer - on our Rhine Getaway last spring, we were definitely the youngest couple on board. This generated some amount of curiosity from fellow passengers but nothing ill-intentioned (though one couple referred to us, jokingly (I assume), as the "breeding pair" and promised to save us first in case of a cataclysmic accident). We generally ate meals on the Aquavit Terrace which was nice - we didn't share any of the large tables in the main dining room. On excursions, you can generally wander off on your own - just tell the guide and be sure to meet everyone at the end point on time. Given the unpredictability of when you can arrive and leave from a given port, it can be a challenge to strike on your own entirely - you may have to rely on the ship's buses to get back and forth, for example. We did have an absolutely lovely time overall. It was exactly the type of vacation we were looking for - relaxing, good food, easy to unplug from the rest of world (first time a bad wifi connection was good for anything...) and a variety of sights, cities and experiences we would not have enjoyed otherwise. 

Edited by 3rdCoastFan

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