Few trips have been as memorable as my recent Viking river cruise on a Longship with my 90-year-old father, Lee. We embarked on an unforgettable journey along the picturesque Rhine River, traveling from Amsterdam to Basel.
Our adventure offered the perfect balance of relaxation and exploration, seasoned with the occasional humorous moments that can only arise when a senior father and his adult son share sleeping quarters for a week.
As soon as we landed in Amsterdam, I was pleased and amazed by the level of organization and support provided by Viking. They were right there, waiting for us at the luggage area, ready to greet and welcome us by name. Viking representatives quickly and efficiently gathered us and other passengers, guiding us to a designated area where we boarded a comfortable coach. From that moment on, Viking took the reins, ensuring that every step of our journey was well-guided. Traveling with my dad added an extra layer of responsibility for me, but with Viking’s assistance, I felt a sense of relief. I knew that I had a team watching out for my dad, professionals who understood the unique needs and considerations of traveling with an elderly family member throughout the trip.
When we boarded the Viking Eir we got settled in our room, unpacked and strolled about the Longship for a bit. During a gathering in the lounge before leaving Amsterdam, I couldn’t help but notice a mother and daughter duo who appeared to be in a similar situation to mine, facing the joys and challenges of traveling with elderly parents. Our eyes met, and without exchanging a word, we understood the shared adventure that awaited us in the week ahead. And as I surveyed the room, I saw others sprinkled about who appeared to be in a similar boat — grown children embarking on this voyage with their aging parents.
I approached Teresa and introduced myself to her and her lovely mother, Terry. Our newfound companions from New Jersey quickly became dear friends; offering unwavering support throughout the journey. Together, we took turns keeping a watchful eye on our parents during various ship activities, dining experiences, lectures, and while on excursions. Our friendship has stood the test of time, and we continue to stay in touch. In fact, we are already looking forward to planning another river cruise together, with our sights set on the Danube River aboard a Viking Longship.
Our journey on the Rhine River was about to begin! We departed on the Rhine headed to Kinderdijk, a UNESCO World Heritage site famed for its iconic windmills. As we admired these engineering marvels, knowledgeable local guides shared the windmills’ history and function with us. My dad still reminisces about how astonishing it was to discover that the windmills in and around Amsterdam were primarily constructed of wood.
Before departing, he couldn’t resist slipping into a gift shop that had a pair of king-size mammoth clogs for tourists to photograph. He donned the massive shoes and captured the moment in a picture, regularly sharing the photo on his iPhone with family and friends. Upon our return to the ship, we enjoyed an afternoon filled with Dutch handcrafted cheeses and jenever, a distilled juniper liquor while enjoying a fascinating presentation about the Dutch Golden Age.
As we continued along the Rhine, our next stop was Cologne, Germany. The city’s striking Gothic cathedral dominated the skyline, its twin spires reaching skyward. We admired the cathedral’s intricate details and the stunning stained-glass windows that adorned its interior.
We also took the opportunity to sample Kölsch, the city’s signature beer, at a local brewery. There, we shared a laugh with fellow passengers about the quirks of two single men living alone yet sharing a cabin on the ship. My dad, an early riser, accused me of being a loud morning snorer who woke him before sunrise, while I countered that his own loud snoring made it difficult for me to fall asleep when I crept into the room late at night, still feeling like I might get grounded for staying out past my curfew!
Cruising further south, we arrived in Koblenz, a city steeped in history and nestled at the confluence of the Rhine and Moselle rivers. While I went on an excursion to explore the ancient Ehrenbreitstein Fortress, which offered breathtaking views of the city and surrounding landscape, my dad chose to stay onboard to relax. He spent his time engaging in the Longship’s activities, such as attending an informative lecture on local history.
I also wandered through the picturesque old town, admiring its charming streets and squares, and stopped to enjoy a hearty German meal. Upon my return, I eagerly shared a humorous moment from my day with my dad: I had unwittingly become the impromptu judge of a local dachshund race, where the enthusiastic pups dashed through the cobblestone streets, much to the delight of the gathered crowd!
Sailing Along the Middle Rhine
Our journey onward took us through the scenic Middle Rhine Valley, a UNESCO World Heritage site, where we admired the countless castles perched on the steep hillsides. As we cruised along the river, we arrived in Rüdesheim in the late afternoon. I ventured out to explore the Drosselgasse, a charming, narrow pedestrian-only street lined with historic buildings, shops, and wine bars.
Naturally, I couldn’t resist slipping into a few wine bars to savor a few glasses of wine from local wineries. Meanwhile, my dad chose to stay onboard and enjoy some quiet time, reading a book on the history of the region that he had discovered in the Longship’s library. Later, we reunited to relax on the upper deck watching the stunning scenery as it passed by. With a glass of wine in hand, poured from a bottle I had picked up during our time in Rüdesheim, we raised a glass toasting in gratitude, how fortunate we were to share this experience together.
As our Rhine River cruise continued, we reached Speyer, a city that offered a manageable and interesting experience. Joining the included guided walking tour, my father and I opted for the slower pace group, which catered to guests with limited mobility. During our time in Speyer, we explored the city’s notable landmarks. One of our stops was the Altpörtel, the Old Gate, the sole remaining piece of the ancient fortifications, serving as a reminder of Speyer’s historical past and its significance.
We also visited the Jewish courtyard, once home to a significant medieval synagogue. It was an opportunity to learn about the city’s diverse history and appreciate the contributions of its Jewish community. Our walking tour concluded at the Romanesque imperial cathedral, the largest of its kind. This architectural marvel holds historical significance, as Speyer is where the Protestants earned their name in 1529. The “Protestation at Speyer” emphasized their right to practice Christianity according to their own beliefs.
In the evening, we were treated to a delicious lobster dinner on board, a culinary experience we had eagerly anticipated. The relaxed atmosphere allowed us to savor the well-prepared meal and enjoy the flavors, creating a memorable dining experience on our cruise. While enjoying the delightful dinner, we took the opportunity to review our itinerary and plan for the upcoming day’s adventures. In one of life’s rare uninterrupted moments with no cell phones etc. we had an actual real conversation reflecting on the highlights of the day, sharing our thoughts and discussing the moments that had made an impression on us. Afterward, we made our way to the game room, where we engaged in a friendly game of cribbage, adding a touch of spirited competition to our evening. It was a terrific way to unwind and savor the day.
Our next stop along the Rhine River took us to the charming city of Strasbourg. With its captivating blend of French and German influences, we were eagerly looking forward to our visit to the renowned Mercedes-Benz Factory. This was an especially meaningful experience for my dad, a lifelong car enthusiast and proud owner of a Mercedes-Benz.
We arrived at the factory, ready to witness the precision and craftsmanship behind these remarkable luxury vehicles. Walking through the factory, we were captivated by the meticulous assembly line and the sophisticated robotic systems at work. The gleam in my dad’s eyes and his childlike excitement were a testament to his deep admiration for Mercedes-Benz. It was like watching a kid in a candy store, utterly enthralled by the experience. Upon leaving the factory, my dad’s appreciation for Mercedes-Benz had reached new heights. It was an unforgettable day that left a lasting impression on both of us.
As we cruised toward the Black Forest, I decided to join a biking excursion through the picturesque landscape of the Black Forest with other passengers. Meanwhile, my dad had other interests in mind and decided to join a group visiting a traditional cuckoo clock workshop, eager to learn the secrets behind these iconic timepieces. I admit, I was a little anxious about him going off on his own while I was off adventuring in the mountains, out of contact and with no phone reception. But the excursion team quickly put my mind at ease, assuring me that he would be in good hands and well looked after in my absence. As it turned out, my dad had a fantastic day exploring the workshop and the world of cuckoo clocks. And I have to say, maybe he enjoyed a little break from my constant hovering and watchful eye! When he returned to the ship, he shared with me fascinating stories about the intricate inner workings of the clocks and the rich history behind their creation. Perhaps a little solo adventure was needed for both of us.
Our Rhine River vacation was drawing to a close when we reached Basel, Switzerland, a charming city that quickly captured our hearts. Choosing to extend our stay by two nights with a post cruise extension through Viking, we planned to fully immerse ourselves in Basel’s allure and celebrate my dad’s milestone birthday. After settling into our comfortable hotel, arranged by Viking and located in the city center, we ventured out to explore Basel’s historic old town. The narrow cobblestone streets and beautifully preserved buildings, each with its own story to tell, were an architectural treat. During our exploration, we couldn’t help but be drawn to the vibrant activity along the river banks. We observed locals engaging in a unique Basel ritual—drifting leisurely in the river with their Wickelfisch swim bags. These brightly colored, waterproof bags, designed to protect belongings while their owners cooled off in the river, were an ingenious solution that underscored the city’s deep affinity for its waterways.
On the day of my dad’s 90th birthday, we organized a special celebration with the help of the Viking representatives at the hotel. We chose Walliser Kanne, a traditional Swiss restaurant nestled on a quiet cobblestone street in downtown Basel, as our venue. Its rustic charm and elegant atmosphere perfectly set the stage for our celebration.
Our dining experience at Walliser Kanne was a culinary delight. We started with their renowned fondue, a rich, creamy dish that set the tone for the meal. This was followed by shared main courses of Wiener Schnitzel and Lammbraten, a Swiss specialty featuring tender, marinated lamb roasted to perfection. A bottle of Bordeaux wine, with its complex flavors and aromas, complemented our meal beautifully. Dessert was a nod to Swiss indulgence. My dad enjoyed a classic apple strudel, its flaky pastry and sweet filling paired perfectly with a scoop of ice cream. I opted for a Swiss cherry pie, a delightful mix of sweet, tangy cherries baked in a buttery crust, served with ice cream. The restaurant went the extra mile, presenting my dad’s dessert on a plate with “Happy Birthday Lee” elegantly written in chocolate. It was a thoughtful touch that rounded off our birthday celebration perfectly and marked a fitting end to our exploratory journey, filled with family bonding and memorable experiences.
Reflecting on our Rhine River cruise from Amsterdam to Basel, the trip was as much about the shared experiences and quality time spent with my dad as it was about the beautiful landscapes and historic cities we explored. Navigating shared living spaces, we bonded, had a few laughs, and created lifelong memories. The personal attention we received during the cruise was remarkable. Notably, the crew remembered our names from day one and a server even remembered our drink orders from a Viking ocean cruise we had taken two years earlier.
This level of detail and care from the Viking crew, combined with the support of fellow passengers, greatly enhanced our journey, making the challenges of traveling with an elderly parent easier to navigate.
In essence, this trip was a perfect blend of adventure, relaxation, and humor, all underscored by an unparalleled level of service. The memories of this cruise, with its unique shared experiences, will forever hold a special place in our hearts.