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.

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!

This Week: April 29-May 5

Love overcomes, love delights, those who love the Sacred Heart rejoice. – St. Bernadette Soubirous

I’ve always liked Mondays. It’s a new week: my emails are answered more quickly, the day is fresh, and it’s everything new. I pray your Monday is beyond blessed and you’re finding the joy of Christ in every moment.

What I’m Reading: At the start of the weekend, I finished Set Free: The Authentic Catholic Woman’s Guide to Forgiveness by Genevieve Kineke. Gevevive graciously sent me a copy of her book after reading my Catholic Stand article regarding the Feminine Genius and secular feminism.  Her book is a great study about as women, we can learn to forgive offenses from the smallest to the most horrendous. I highly recommend it. This week, I’m working my way through the Take Up and Read Rosary study, Ponder

What I’m Praying: This week, my fiance and I are going to re-start our habit of praying the Chaplet of Divine Mercy. The Chaplet is a beautiful prayer with a special focus on the mercy of Jesus. In addition to my daily Bible study and prayers, I try to pray a full Rosary or at least a decade. The struggle has been real lately!

What I’m Wearing: This week’s handbag is the Coach Saddle 23. Dusty rose leather, gunmetal hardware, classic silhouette, and crossbody fit: it’s my new favorite purse. I love you, Coach.

What I’m Hearing: The highlight of my Sundays (or Monday morning) is listening to The Coaster. It’s a fun and lighthearted oasis in the world of Catholic podcasting.

What I’m Writing: This week I’m working on an article for Catholic Stand about St. Bernadette Soubirous and Our Lady of Lourdes. In the past, I’ve written about Our Lady of Guadalupe, St. Therese, and my conversion experience. During Holy Week, I was featured over at The Catholic Woman. This week, I hope to write a blog post about the Chaplet of Divine Mercy.

Follow These Fine Accounts on Twitter: @DeanAbbott, @CatholicCoaster, @CarmeliteNick

What I’m Up To: Earlier this month, I was hired by a major charter school network in NYC. My new job starts this July and I am looking forward to the change. I will miss my family (especially my newborn nephew!) and wonderful parish family, but I am very excited about the opportunity to work in a new state and to live closer to my fiance.

Where I’m Going: In June, my mother and I are going on the Rhine Getaway with Viking River Cruises. My last encounter with Europe was 12 years ago on a 12 hour layover in France on a return trip from Israel. Like any 16-year-old, I drank a Diet Coke at midnight at the Eiffel Tower and thought I was very cosmopolitan. This cruise will take us from Switzerland to Amsterdam and I’m so excited!

Stay tuned and may God bless you this week!

 

For Everyone New: An Introduction

Hello everyone! Welcome back to the regularly scheduled programming.

At the beginning of Lent, I had a great idea. I thought that I would abstain from all social media, including blogging. In my mind, I imagined that this time off would help me recharge and revamp my writing ministry. As it turns out, the idea to fast from writing was not one of my brightest ideas. Since Easter, I’ve sluggishly turned to my keyboard, only to find myself staring at the blank screen. As it turns out, writing is a lot like exercising a muscle. The more you do it, the easier, and better, it becomes. Conversely, the less you write (or exercise), the more difficult the task is. So now, eight days after Easter, I’m finally writing to you.

Surprisingly, during the Lenten season, I picked up a few followers not only here on WordPress, but also on Facebook and Twitter. This post is for those who are new to Quelpart. However you ended up here, I am grateful. I hope my writing brings you the joy of Christ in your daily life.

What’s a “Quelpart?”

You can read more about the story behind my blog’s name HERE. In short, Quelpart is the French name of the island I lived on while teaching in Korea. But, the name means much more than that.

About Me

I’m Sarah. I was born, raised, and educated in Kentucky. I worked and lived in South Korea for a year as a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant. For as long as I can remember, I’ve loved looking at and reading maps. My heart is always in East Asia. In the early morning, I rattle my rosary beads. By day, I’m a teacher. At night, I read books, write, and drink coffee. When I’m not working or reading or praying, I collect designer handbags. The wildest thing I’ve ever done is travel to Tijuana, Mexico for bariatric surgery.

If I’m not jetsetting or scouting New York City’s Flushing Chinatown with my Long Island fiance, you can usually find me at my parish’s adoration chapel. I’m a convert to Catholicism, and my only regret is that I wish I would have done it sooner. I love the Sacred Heart and Divine Mercy. I am devoted to our Blessed Mother, especially under the title of Our Lady of Guadalupe.

About This Blog

Around here, I blog almost exclusively about the intersection of the Catholic faith and “real life.” Occasionally, I may mention my travels. But overall, this is a blog fascinated with the wild and sacred adventure of life with Jesus. I try to blog twice a week: sometimes more, sometimes less. Regardless, I pray you’ll stick around and keep reading.

to Him through Her,

Sarah

 

Snow Day Special: Roamin’ Catholic

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First, let’s be real: the “Roamin’ Catholic” phrase is overused and eye-roll inducing, but it’s fun. Second, let’s talk travel.

For many who know me in person, you all know that I’m a frequent traveler. On any school break, you will not find me at home. Rather, I’ve been known to go far and wide, never leaving enough time for grass to grow under my feet. The cool thing about being Catholic and full is wanderlust is that there are no shortages of holy places around the world to visit. Without delay, here are just a few places I’d like to visit before I cross into eternity.

  1. The Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Mexico City, Mexico: It’s one of the most visited shrines in the world, and luckily, it’s on my continent. Also, the opportunity to see St. Juan Diego’s tilma is once (maybe twice) in a lifetime.
  2. The Holy Land: When I was 16, I was privileged to visit Israel with my mom. At the time, I thought I appreciated it. But in reality, I was 16 years old and my mind wasn’t concerned about ancient history.
  3. National Shrine of the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception, Washington, D.C.: It’s described as the “nation’s Catholic Church.” Only 8 hours away by car, and faster by plane.
  4. National Shrine of the Twenty-Six Martyrs, Nagasaki, Japan: Nagasaki, in the past and today, has the highest concentration of Catholics in Japan. After reading A Song for Nagasaki by Fr. Paul Glynn, I’d like to revisit Japan, especially this shrine.
  5. The Sheshan Basilica, Shanghai, China: I believe that this basilica is now under the control of the Patriotic Catholic Church (think: state-approved Catholicism). Still, Our Lady of Sheshan and Our Lady of China are two of my favorite depictions of Jesus and Mary. I would love to see where the images found their beginnings.
  6. The Lourdes Shrine, Lourdes, France: Where the alleged apparitions of Mary occurred in 1858 (received by St. Bernadette), Lourdes is home to the miraculous water spring. Also, the story of Our Lady of Lourdes has always touched my heart.
  7. Oratory of St. Joseph Basilica, Montreal, Canada: St. Andre Bessette was known as God’s Doorman. A simple man, he was a porter for the Congregation of the Holy Cross in Montreal, Canada. However, St. Andre became known far and wide for his healing ability, which he credited to the intercession of St. Joseph, the earthly father of Jesus. St. Andre never took credit for his gift from God. Before he died, St. Andre saw to it that a basilica was built in honor of St. Joseph: a masculine model of love of Christ. There, you can see the crutches of those were, and are still being, healed.

These are just a few of the places I’d like to visit. Have you been to one or more of the places listed above? What other shrines, chapels, and memorials would you recommend? Comment below!

Happy travels!

Tips for Mercy

I am always compelled by those have lived, and live, lives of mercy. One of my favorite true stories of a merciful life is that of Satoko Kitahara, the subject of Fr. Paul Glynn’s The Smile of a Ragpicker (I wrote about Satoko here). Long-story-short, Satoko left a life of privilege to serve the poor and detested souls of Tokyo’s Ants Town. After her death, the Church recognized Satoko as a Venerable, and she is on the path towards sainthood.

What is impressive about Satoko is that she was merciful to those in her own city. Though she wanted to serve in the foreign missions, she instead was a “Japanese for the Japanese.” In our everyday lives, there are numerous opportunities to show mercy to Image result for mercy pixabaythose we encounter.

Personally, is something I struggle with each and every day.

Often, those around me do not meet my expectations or just get under my skin. It’s easy for me to ignore those I deem not worthy of my time. Yet, today, to have mercy for all is an incredibly counter-cultural act. In fact, in the Gospel of St. Luke, Jesus tells us to be merciful because God is merciful to us (Luke 6:36). In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy” (Matthew 6:7).

But why, Lord, does mercy have to be so difficult? My theory: Anything worth cultivating won’t be an easy undertaking. So, to help you along your way, I’ve listed three tips for living a more merciful life:

  1. Pray: This is an obvious solution that sometimes we rarely employ. Is there someone grinding your last nerve? Pray for them. Are you on the verge of hatred? Pray about it. Do you find more comfort in anger than in peace? Pray about it. I know, it’s easier said than done. On many occasions, I’ve relished in the idea of resentment more than a heart of forgiveness. Instead, I should have asked for a merciful heart towards those I perceived had wronged me. Prayer changes things, and God will guide you on a merciful path.
  2. Take Up a Devotion: Is there a religious practice that has meaning for you? This could be praying the Rosary or going back to the same passages of Scripture and meditating on it. Personally, I love the Chaplet of Divine Mercy. While praying the Chaplet, you ask God to have mercy on you and the whole world. When you realize that you, too, are in need of God’s mercy, it puts other struggles into perspective.
  3. Sacrifice: Once again. it’s one of those spiritual practices that’s easy to preach, but harder to live out. I want you to think about someone who annoys you. As a personal rule, I tend to avoid these people. But, to cultivate mercy, maybe we could sacrifice our comfort to say “Hello” to that person or ask about their day. It’s one small step, one little sacrifice, that can lead to a lifetime of merciful living.

Do you have any tips for living a more merciful life? What advice would you give to someone who wants to show more mercy to their friends and neighbors? God bless!

For the sake of His sorrowful passion, have mercy on us and on the whole world. // Chaplet of Divine Mercy

One thing alone is necessary; that the sinner set ajar the door of his heart, be it ever so little, to let in a ray of God’s merciful grace, and then God will do the rest. // St. Faustina

Remembering St. Andrew

Last night, I was privileged to attend a vigil mass honoring St. Andrew, one of Jesus’ first disciples and patron of my home parish. (After mass, I ate lasagna and homemade tamales at the parish potluck. Reason #4569 to be Catholic. I digress.).

Before I was a confirmed Catholic, I entered my RCIA classes believing I was very Biblically literate. As the weeks and months progressed, it turns out I didn’t know as much about the Bible and its contents as I thought. For example, last night I learned that St. Andrew  was a disciple of John the Baptist, the brother of Peter, and is the one who introduced the message of Jesus to Peter. I’ve gone years hearing the story of St. Andrew, but I didn’t really know about the earthly life of our heavenly friend.

However, what I did know is that Andrew was called to become a “fisher of men.” In Matthew 4, Jesus approaches both Andrew and Peter, hard at work in a boat, casting their nets for fish. In verse 19, Jesus simply says “Come after Me, and I will make you fishers of men” (NABRE). According to Scripture, Peter and Andrew “left their nets at once and followed Him” (4:19, NABRE). No hesitation, no “Hmm, let me think about it.” No, “Yeah, let me get back with you, Jesus. I’ve got to lock up the house.” They dropped their nets and followed Him.

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Andrew’s decision to follow Christ is radical, especially in our modern era. We are, in one form of another, obsessed with comfort and security. I often wonder what Andrew and Peter thought as they literally cast away their livelihoods for the Kingdom. We will never know on this side of Heaven. Yet, can you imagine if Jesus walked into your workplace today and said, “Come after me?” Would you hesitate? What would it take for you to drop everything and follow Jesus? I often think about myself. Foolishly, I assume that I wouldn’t think twice about dropping my “nets” and following after Jesus.

In reality, I probably would think more than twice.

Today, I can think of every excuse in the book. I feel the Holy Spirit’s nudge to give my grocery store cashier an evangelization holy card and I retort: “That would be really awkward and there’s five people behind me waiting in line.” Or, “Yes, I’d love to pray for Mrs. XYZ, but I’ll do it when I’m not angry at her. I want my prayer to be really, really good.” I ask that the Lord will help me grow into His likeness. However, when He presents me an opportunity to grow, I fluster and think, “Seriously?!” Unfortunately, we all have hesitations and comforts that we must overcome in order to become saints.

Like all of Jesus’ apostles (save for John), Andrew was welcomed into Heaven with a martyr’s death. The day was November 30th, 60 AD. It is noted in history that he died in Patras, Greece after suffering crucifixion on an x-shaped cross (now known as St. Andrew’s Cross). Today, St. Andrew is recognized as the patron saint of Russia, Scotland, Barbados, fishermen, pregnant women, and protection against whooping cough. On the anniversary of his martyrdom, we remember St. Andrew for his courage to say “Yes” to Jesus.

St. Andrew, pray for us that we may imitate your courage and abandon comfort in order to bring more souls to Jesus. 

O good Cross, made beautiful by the body of the Lord: long have I desired you, ardently have I loved you, unceasingly have I sought you out; and now you are ready for my eager soul. // Attributed to St. Andrew, “Prayer of St. Andrew”

Come after Me, and I will make you fishers of Men. // Matthew 4:18