Viking River Cruise’s Rhine Getaway: A Review

Happy Tuesday! Here’s a note before we begin:

Last week, I mentioned that I am taking a break from blogging until mid-July due to my upcoming vacation and my move to NYC next week. On Sunday afternoon, I returned from Europe after experiencing a most unique vacation with Viking River Cruises. My trip was so special that I believe it merits a break from my break in order to help you determine if river cruising, especially with Viking, is a good choice for your future travel choices. Please note that though my review is overwhelmingly positive, I am not affiliated with Viking River Cruises in any way. 

I watch a lot of cable news. In between breaks of talking heads and other pundits, I’ve watched this (now dated) commercial many, many times:

My initial thoughts? Sure, that looks fun…if you’re over 50 and have retirement money to spend.

Personally, I consider myself a semi-budget traveler. I like to go as fancy as I can for as cheap as I can. From the looks of the Viking commercials, the cruises fit the “fancy” criteria of my travel desires, but more than likely would not fulfill the “as cheap as I can” part of the equation. Also, how much would I enjoy a cruise where the age of the average cruiser would easily hover around 55?

Then, in 2017, my parents cruised with Viking on the Elegant Elbe itinerary. Later that year, they traveled to South America with Viking, only to turn around and sail a few months later down the Danube River. For my parents, who are under 55 and very active, Viking was their top, and now only, choice for cruising.

Yet, I was still suspicious: Would I enjoy a Viking River Cruise? Even if I enjoy European history, but I’m not a buff? Even if I am “old at heart,” but still like to talk about the concerns of a younger generation?

So, when the opportunity arose to go on a Viking River Cruise presented itself, I hurried to take advantage of the occasion. To make a long-review-short, even though I harbored my own concerns about the trip, all of my assumptions of a Viking cruise were shattered within seconds of boarding our longship on June 17th, 2018 for our sailing on the Rhine River.

Please note that like any vacation, there are pros and cons to any journey. Throughout our Rhine Getaway, I noted specific aspects of river cruising with Viking that I loved and three aspects that others (not necessarily myself) may not prefer. With that, let’s start with the positives of the Rhine Getaway.

1. Service: Service to and on our longship, the Viking Hlin, was impeccable from the start. The moment we landed in Basel, Switzerland, we were escorted to a comfy Viking motor coach which whisked us away to our dock. Check-in on the Hlin was a breeze and we were directed to a lunch buffet that was prepared and waiting for us. Our servers were attentive, but not overbearing. Within a day, our server at breakfast, Aries, knew both mine and my mother’s name. He knew what we wanted to drink without having to ask. Our room attendant, Annamaria, was equally as impressive. She knew how many washcloths to leave in our bathroom and cleaned our stateroom twice a day. At dinner, when we ate on the Aquavit Terrace, our server Goska also knew our names and dining preferences within a day. These examples of fine service are only the tip of the iceberg.

2. Dining: The dining experience on our longship was exceptional (and included in your fare!). In the mornings, we were treated to a wide selection of egg and pastry-ish dishes from a menu, accompanied with an extensive breakfast buffet. The buffet hosted traditional American-style bacon and eggs, but also European fish dishes, salad, and muesli. Lunch and dinner service was no exception. While you can order from a three-course menu for lunch, my mom and I often ate on the Aquavit Terrace, which was a lighter option. Lunch on the terrace often included the selections featured in the restaurant, but in smaller portions (which was perfect for our dining needs). For dinner, dining featured a wide selections from a regional menu and a standard menu that remained the same for those with more American tastes. On our first night, I enjoyed a sirloin with fries, Cesar salad, and vanilla ice cream. Throughout the week, I tried German sausages, Dutch beef stew, and a few delicious cheeseburgers.

3. Ease of Travel. I am not new to international travel, though I am new to river cruising. Typically when I travel abroad or over long distances, it is a task to get from place-to-place or hotel-to-hotel. Previously, my travel experience in Europe included an 18-hour layover in Paris back in 2006. That was it. So, maybe you’re not a seasoned traveler, but you want to see more of the world in a way that’s not tiresome or stress-inducing. This is where river cruising with Viking steps in. With Viking, we stopped at many cities on the Rhine River, and at the end of the day, we returned to our ship to enjoy dinner and other fun activities. We didn’t have to worry about handling our luggage, finding a taxi, and navigating in a foreign language. All of this was taken care for us by the ship’s staff and crew. For someone who hadn’t visited Europe in 12 years, the ease of travel with Viking was an excellent motivation to return to the continent.

While I could list many more positives of my Rhine Getaway with Viking, there are also some negative aspects to river cruising. Please note, these “negatives” can be interpreted more as preferences based on an individual person, and not to river cruising as a whole. But, nevertheless, these are worth mentioning and considering before booking your first trip with Viking.

1. Not a Party Ship. Viking River Cruise longships are NOT party ships. If you are looking to get sauced every night in the bar with spring break college kids and techno music bumping in the background, then river cruising with Viking is NOT for you. Yes, the ship has a bar and alcohol is provided at meals, but by 11:00 PM at night, most of the ship’s 200ish guests are tucked away in their staterooms. There is no curfew on the ship and you are free to browse the halls at all hours, but don’t expect to join a raving party in the lounge or on the top deck at these hours. Appropriately, Viking Cruises are billed as the “thinking person’s cruise.” Most cruisers are on vacation to relax, visit historical sites, enjoy a glass of wine at dinner, and to read a book from the ship’s library. In this same vein, do not expect children’s programming on these ships. This is not a typically family-friendly cruise, and it’s not geared towards children. Don’t expect to drop off little Johnny at ship daycare while you relax by the walking track. Personally, I am “old at heart,” and I appreciated the mature atmosphere of our ship. But, if you’re looking for a loud, non-stop party (or a vacation with children’s programs) then steer clear of river cruising with Viking.

2. No Room Service. Viking River Cruises do not provide 24-hour room service. For those who have cruised on ocean liners, they may be accustomed to non-stop stream of food at their fingertips. On Viking, you certainly won’t starve due to lack of food and free snacks, but don’t expect to make a phone call for 3:00 AM pizza. Once again, this is a personal preference. Some really want the full-meal access while on vacation, while others (like myself), prefer the formal meals while enjoying free coffee and snacks in-between meals. Personally, I think the three-course meals at dinner, wide selections at lunch, and menu ordering at breakfast adds to the mature atmosphere of the cruise. But, once again, it depends on what you’re looking for in terms of your desired culinary experience.

3. The Price. When my friends heard I was going on a river cruise the Viking, the first question was “How much did you pay for the trip?!” This is a fair question, as river cruising is an investment to be taken seriously. Also, the pricing can be intimidating for those who are uninitiated. A large suite with a balcony on a Viking longship can easily go for $6,000 per person for 8 days. Can you afford that? Probably not. Can I afford that? No.

But, the key is to shop smarter, not harder.

If you’re thinking of taking a river cruise with Viking, sign up for alerts through a travel agent. I recommend using the Roaming Boomers, who often send out unpublished Viking fares in their email updates. That’s how my mom and I snagged a great deal for our stateroom on the Rhine Getaway. Often, these prices are thousands of dollars cheaper than fares on the Viking website. Once you start looking for deals, you may find yourself sailing down any given European river.

My vacation with Viking River Cruises surpassed my expectations. I had a great time exploring Europe along the Rhine River and I made some wonderful memories along the way. Of course, I can’t list every positive about river cruising, and nor can I list every “negative.” In the end, it’s up to you to determine if European river cruising is for you. But, overall, I highly recommend this mode of travel. Have you traveled with Viking in the past? What was your impression? What did you like or dislike? Let me know in the comments below! In the meantime, happy trails.

Taking a Break

Happy Thursday, everyone! 

It’s been quiet around here for two weeks. Why? I’ve been [super] busy.

On June 5th, my fiance came down for a visit and stayed for a week. During his visit and since he left, it’s been feet on the ground and running, running, running. This Saturday, I depart for my European river cruise. Eight days after my return, I move to New York City to begin my new job in July. So, you won’t hear much from me around here until early-to-middle of July 2018. Keep me in your prayers as I travel and transition, and I’ll pray for you as well.

God bless you and I’ll talk to you soon.

-Sarah

Roamin’ Catholic: USA Edition

Earlier this year, I wrote a blog post regarding all of the Catholic places I’d like to visit. Sites included the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe and the shrine of Our Lady of Lourdes in Lourdes, France. All of these places are wonderful, holy sites that can enrich our faith. But, when you live in the United States and hopping a plane to Mexico City or continental Europe on a whim isn’t an option, it’s favorable to check out the holy places in your own backyard.

Below is a list of a few places I would love to visit, especially in the near future when I move to New York City. Certainly, I will miss some worthy places, so drop a comment below and let me know where I should visit.

Roamin’ Catholic: USA Edition

  1. St. John Paul II National Shrine, Washington, D.C.
  2. The Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, Washington, D.C.
  3. Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacrament, Hanceville, AL
  4. Shrine of St. Therese, Darien, IL
  5. Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe, La Crosse, WI
  6. Lourdes in Litchfield, Litchfield, CT
  7. Our Lady of Good Help, Champion, WI (The only Vatican-approved apparition site in the USA)
  8. St. Kateri National Shrine and Historic Site, Fonda, NY
  9. Shrine and Parish Church of the Holy Innocents, New York, NY
  10. Shrine of Our Lady of La Sallette, Altamont, NY
  11. Shrine of Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal, Philadelphia, PA

Where are places you’ve traveled? Drop a note below!

When Easter is Ordinary: Times of Slow Prayer

Pentecost Sunday 2018

After the long, tedious haul of Lent, the Easter season is a time of rejoicing in the Risen Christ. In an ideal world, all Christians would by happy and jubilant during this time, full of prayer and contemplation. Nothing would hinder our devotion and we would pray without ceasing during this joyous time.

But, for better or for worse, we live in a different reality that what I described above. 

As a relatively new convert, I have eagerly jumped into many devotional prayers and practices. At first, it was really easy to incorporate new prayers and practices into my life. “This is easy!,” I thought. “I don’t know why more people don’t pray the Rosary everyday and pray all these novenas!” 

Then, bit-by-bit, real life began to creep in. During this year’s season of Lent, I decided to abstain from blogging (except on Sundays) and other social media outlets. After Lent, when the time of fasting was over, I found myself struggling to write again. I found myself lagging also in my prayer and devotional life.

When I once eagerly prayed the Rosary each morning and read a devotional, I did well just to pray something on my own. Novenas? Forget it. Writing in my journal with prayerful overtones? No. Reading the devotions that are emailed to me every morning? Delete.

If you can’t tell, my Easter season has been a struggle.

As we round out the Easter season with the joyous day of Pentecost, I have thought of how I can better reestablish a routine of prayer that helps me grow right where I am. Of course, I know that life happens: Living gets busy and we can’t upkeep the prayer habits of those living in a cloister or monastery.

Thankfully, since January, I have met monthly with a wonderful spiritual director. Often, we talk about habits of prayer and practice. I willingly admit that I want to pray all the prayers and do all the devotions. When I “fail,” I become utterly disappointed and feel like I’m somehow less of a Catholic because of it. However, when meeting with her last week, my director suggested that I make a list of what I would like to do prayer-wise throughout the day.

Though I am a habitual list maker, I never thought to apply the fine art of list-making to my prayer life. Since I began making a list since last week, I’ve noticed that the “slowness” of my Easter season prayer has begin to fall away and I’ve began to notice a renewal in my own practice. I am not overwhelmed nor wracked with a false since of guilt.

Here’s an example of my own “prayer list” that supplements my spontaneous prayer:

  1. Daily Mass Readings
  2. Pray the Liturgy of the Hours (when possible)
  3. One Rosary decade (or full Rosary when possible).

These tasks fit easily within my own life and help me grow closer to Christ throughout my day. Once I complete all of these prayerful tasks, anything “extra” is a bonus. By choosing to make a list and sticking to it, I can already tell that I don’t feel as slothful in my prayer life. I am slowly picking up the energy that I possessed before the Lenten season and I thank God for the wisdom of my spiritual director. And strangely enough, I thank God for this slow, prayerful season of Easter. In a sense, I have rediscovered the joy of prayer.

As we enter into Ordinary Time, what are some ways you can revamp your prayer life if it feels slow? What works for you? What doesn’t work for you? Let me know below, I’d love to hear your story.

May Our Lord Jesus bless you as you celebrate Pentecost and venture into Ordinary Time.

GUEST POST: Delight Yourself in the Lord by Allison Gingras

Happy Wednesday, everyone! I am excited to present a guest post from another digital friend and fellow Catholic blogger, Allison Gingras. May the joy of the Lord be your strength!

Delight Yourself in the Lord

Well, that seems easy enough. Though, I am not sure which intrigued me more when I first read it?  Whether it was wondering how one delights themselves in the Lord or which desire of my heart I longed to have fulfilled?

Continue reading “GUEST POST: Delight Yourself in the Lord by Allison Gingras”

Myths of a Different Kind: Two Falsehoods I Used to Believe About Catholicism

Solemnity of the Ascension // Our Lady of Fatima // Mother’s Day, 2018

It’s very common for inquirers about Catholicism to arrive in their RCIA classes or local parishes with misconceptions about the Faith. Often warned by well-meaning acquaintances about the dangers of the Catholic faith, those curious about Catholicism often have to work through this emotional and cultural baggage before (and sometimes after) receiving the Sacrament of Confirmation.

For those who convert from an Evangelical Protestant background, some “myths” run a common thread across denominational lines. Some of these common myths include the idea that Catholics worship Mary, Catholics must earn their way to Heaven, Catholics believe they can “just go to confession” (and keep on sinning), and that Catholicism rejects Biblical teaching in favor of man-made traditions.

For me, the experience was a little different.

Many Protestant groups teach that one only has to “accept Jesus” in order to secure salvation. Often, it is taught that salvation can never be lost, regardless of what the person does. Other groups teach that salvation is eternal, but if you continue to live a life of sin after acknowledging Jesus, then you probably weren’t really “saved” to begin with. Baptism is often presented as something one does as a sign of obedience after salvation, not as an act necessary for salvation.

Contrary to this dominant theology in Protestantism, my denomination taught the necessity of baptism for salvation and that eternal security is not a Biblical teaching. Since the Catholic Church teaches the necessity of baptism for salvation and the rejection of eternal security, I had no issue with this during my formation period.

However, there were other myths before my conversion that I carried with me into RCIA. Thankfully, these myths were resolved and I was able to understand more clearly what the Church teachers and how she operates in our world. While I’m not a professional theologian, hopefully I can help you untangle these misunderstandings and any other misunderstandings you may have, too.

Myth #1: Catholics Don’t Evangelize. A few months ago, I read an article (title and author I have since forgotten) about Catholic evangelization. Essentially, the author stated that helping  someone enter the Catholic faith was once almost unheard of. He mentioned that inquiring about Catholicism was like if a non-Italian walked up to someone of Italian descent and said, “I’d like to be Italian. Can you help me do that?” In case you didn’t know, you can’t change someone’s ethnicity.

I imagine, that at one time, Catholicism was easily viewed as a family tradition, rather than a relationship with God (which happens even today in all faith traditions to a degree). Often, for those born into a Catholic family, the idea of conversion may seem foreign or even odd. At one time, I thought people only converted to Catholicism because they were going to marry a Catholic. On reason I carried this belief was because I thought that Catholics simply did not evangelize.

However, when I was in RCIA and upon my confirmation, I discovered that this was farther from the truth. For example, the Saint Paul Street Evangelization creates street teams to encounter passerbys in public spaces in a non-threatening way. These teams often pass out medals, rosary beads, pamphlets, and Bibles to those who are interested. On a smaller scale, many Catholic parishes have envagelization teams. For example, my parish hosted a Discovering Christ and Sharing Christ sessions for those interested in telling their story of faith in social settings. Catholic evangelization is alive and well, even if you don’t see it shouted on your local street corner.

Myth #2: Catholics Don’t Care About the Bible. This myth is rampant, especially in some (but not all) Protestant churches. The accusations are varied: Catholics say a priest forgives you. That’s not in the Bible! or Catholics drink blood each Sunday. That’s not in the Bible! or Catholics observe Advent and Lent, plus they baptize babies who can’t consent. That’s not in the Bible! My personal favorite: Catholics don’t even read the Bible. They’re not allowed to! 

Unfortunately, many of these statements about Catholic doctrines not having a Biblical foundation are based on myths within a myth. Perhaps someone had heard a Catholic family member describe a faith practice incorrectly. Or, maybe someone has encountered a former Catholic who is angry with the Church (and is often poorly catechized), and is determined to spread their own understanding of Catholic teaching.

While I don’t have time to delve into the Biblical basis for Catholic teachings, I can say that Catholics have a strong reverence for the Bible as the inspired Word of God. If you attend any Catholic Mass, you will notice that the Mass is absolutely soaked in the words and story of the Bible. There are multiple readings: the Old Testament, a Psalm, often a second reading from the Epistles, and always, always, always a Gospel reading. That’s a reading from each part of the Bible each and every Sunday! In a three-year liturgical year cycle, a Catholic will have heard the entire Bible read. How awesome is that!

Another example, before receiving the Eucharist, Catholics say, “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only the say the words and my soul shall be healed” (Matthew 8:8). So, each time we receive Communion, Catholics are reminded that though we are not worthy of God, He comes to each one of us in the Eucharist. There are so many ways that Catholics reverence the Bible, just in the Mass alone. In fact, Pope Francis admonished Catholics to carry our Bibles just like we carry our smartphones.

Food For Thought

If you’re a convert to Catholicism, are there any myths that you believed prior to your confirmation? If you’re a cradle Catholic, did you have misunderstandings that were cleared up upon further study? Are you a non-Catholic who may have a misunderstanding? If so, I’d love to hear your stories below. It’s important that we always promote the truth in charity and love. I look forward to reading your comments and stories. Have a blessed Sunday!

 

 

GUEST POST: 15 Sneaky Ways to Live Out Your Catholic Faith

Welcome to Wednesday! Today, I am grateful to have Caitlyn Anderson, a digital friend and fellow Catholic, as today’s guest writer. Caitlyn is a blogger and YouTuber who seeks to glorify Christ in all that she does. I pray you are blessed and find out how you can live a quiet faith in a loud world.

15 Sneaky Ways to Live Out Your Catholic Faith

There are a ton of ways to live out the Catholic faith, especially since the Church is so beautiful and complex. Because of the vast assortment of ways to go share the message of the Gospel with the world, it can get a little overwhelming… and as if it weren’t already challenging enough, society is in a full on spiritual battle with all believers. I don’t know about you, but I get harassed for sharing my love for Christ quite often. It doesn’t exactly make me want to “go and announce the Gospel of the Lord”! However, we are called to “make disciples of all nations” (see Matthew 28:19).

We don’t need to make grand gestures on the regular in order to do that. St. Teresa of Calcutta said, “Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love”. That’s what this list is all about. These are all small tasks that, when done with love, can be beautiful ways to live out your faith and share Christ’s love with the world.

Without further ado, here are fifteen sneaky ways to live out your Catholic faith:

 

  • Buy lunch for a homeless person.

 

You don’t need to buy a five course meal for someone in need. A quick stop at a deli for a sandwich and bottled water is just as significant. The most important part of this action is taking the time to acknowledge the person and their human dignity. Make eye contact and say a kind word when you give them your gift. Maybe even offer to say a prayer with them. Let them know you see them as a fellow brother or sister in Christ, worthy of basic respect.

 

  • Forgive when someone apologizes.

 

A little forgiveness goes a long way… and Christ tells us to forgive others as He has forgiven us! Don’t believe me? Check out Ephesians 4:32. Letting past hurts go and returning the apology with love is a beautiful way to reflect the forgiveness that God gives us to everyone in our lives.

 

  • Smile at a stranger.

 

Small thing, great love. Just acknowledging their presence as they walk past you can make their whole day. As far as you know, your smile may be the only kindness they experience all day. And that tiny bit of kindness can open their heart to an even greater Love.

 

  • Babysit your neighbor’s kids.

 

Even though the Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37) is talking about more than helping your neighbor with their kiddos, helping out the people around you is a great place to start when you take on the commandment to “love your neighbor as yourself”. Whether it’s babysitting for date night, helping someone with their yardwork, or bringing dinner to the couple with a newborn, a little generosity goes a long way.

 

  • Pick up trash on your lunch break.

 

I know what you’re probably thinking… How is this Catholic? Well, it all boils down to taking care of the gift God has given us! Pope Francis summed it up perfectly in a 2015 speech: “As stewards of God’s creation, we are called to make the earth a beautiful garden for the human family”. So next time you finish your midday meal, take a few minutes to pick up any litter you see lying around on your way to the garbage can.

 

  • Wash the dishes without complaint.

 

I’m going to leave this explanation to St. Teresa of Calcutta (yea, she said a lot of great things!): “Wash the plate not because it is dirty nor because you are told to wash it, but because you love the person who will use it next”.

 

  • Listen to some faith-based music while you drive.

 

Whether you want to jam out to some Newsboys or blast some Gregorian chant or listen to a choir of nuns, some faith-based tunes coming from your speakers is never a bad thing! Avoiding the nonsense that comes over the radio these days can help you avoid some temptation, which will make it a little easier to continue to live out your faith throughout the day.

 

  • Invite a friend over.

 

Having good relationships with your friends is a great way to evangelize! This is a particularly sneaky way to share the faith. Inviting someone into your home and having fun with them allows them to see the joy and love that comes from having a friendship with Christ! Bonus perk: added opportunities for conversations about faith to come up.

 

  • Volunteer at a retirement home.

 

Being pro-life means respecting the dignity of human life at ALL stages- even the lives of the elderly. Spending a few hours with those in retirement homes or convalescent homes is a wonderful way to spread some joy to those who may be battling feelings of loneliness and to show them that there are people who still very much care about them and their well-being.

 

  • Donate clothes that you don’t want anymore.

 

Clothe the naked, people! Okay, so maybe you aren’t running around looking for nude individuals… but donating clothes and other items you no longer want or need helps those who can’t afford to shop at department stores. Just throwing stuff in the trash is wasteful! If there is still life left in those threads you no longer wear, give someone else the chance to enjoy them. Luke 3:11.

 

  • Support small businesses.

 

Not only do you help someone provide for their family (and all Catholics should be pro-family, right?), but you also get more of a say about where your money goes. Pouring all your money into big companies often means that you are pouring money into organizations that do not reflect your morals and values. Now, sometimes a run to the super-mart at midnight is a necessity… but making the choice to support small business when you can makes a huge difference.

 

  • Put in your best effort at school or work.

 

Colossians 3:23-24, y’all. Use the talents God gave you and do everything for Him!

 

  • Eat dinner with your family.

 

I’m busting out another St. Teresa of Calcutta quote… “It is easy to love the people far away. It is not always easy to love those close to us. Bring love into your home for this is where our love for each other must start”. Like she said, it’s not always easy to love those close to us- especially when they know all the right buttons to push to get under your skin! But spending time with your family, even if it’s just one meal a day, gives you an opportunity to reconnect with them and show them some love.

 

  • Wear a cross/crucifix/miraculous medal or a faith-inspired shirt.

 

Okay, so this one is not as sneaky. But it’s still a great way to live out the faith and evangelize! Not only will you be a low-key walking billboard for Christ, you just may inspire others to be more open about their faith or spark a conversation about why you are wearing what you are wearing!

 

  • Pray.

 

This may be an obvious one, but it is SO IMPORTANT. Pray. Pray some more. Add in a few prayers after that. They don’t have to be long, fancy prayers, but lift up others to God. Pray for your family members, the unborn, the elderly, the needy, your postman, your doctor, your politicians, your peers, the cashier at the store, and that one driver who cut you off this morning!

As you can see, these are small tasks that are easy to incorporate into your everyday life. Don’t think you have to go out and do all of them at once, either. Even doing one small thing with great love once a week can make a HUGE impact on the world!

If you can do more- awesome! If you can only start with one- that’s great, too.

Over time, it will become easier and easier to incorporate these “sneaky” ways of being Catholic into your daily routine… All you have to do is start with one act of great love.

Continue reading “GUEST POST: 15 Sneaky Ways to Live Out Your Catholic Faith”