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.