By Cacinda Maloney
What are Viking River Cruises like? Let’s peak thru the window with fascination and find out.
The day I received the invitation, I was so happy as a travel journalist and Instagrammer. I was ready to take on the challenge of experiencing every detail of the Viking River Cruises. But, what are Viking River Cruises really like? I knew they were the jewel of the sea with their ever-changing scenery. I had heard about the “unpack once” scenario , but what are the nitty gritty details I need to know before I take this cruise and is it really as awesome as I have heard?
At first, they invited me to go on the:
Passage to Eastern Europe (BUD-BUC)
Waterways of the Tsars (LED-SVO)
Both sounded incredible and I spent a few days looking at their website (drooling, of course!) and at my calendar. But unfortunately for me, the dates just didn’t work, as my October and November were full with trips to Savannah, St Simons Island, St Augustine, Sri Lanka and the Maldives. But my month of December was wide open, other than a Christmas/New Year’s trip to Telluride. I countered their email with something I had always wanted to do:
You can read four stories I wrote about a few of the stops:
And you can read a different perspective about a Rhine Getaway Cruise Review
Lo and behold, they said “Yes!” And soon enough I was off on a Dec 4th sailing date on the Viking River Cruises down the Rhine River for the Christmas Markets from Basel, Switzerland to Amsterdam, Netherlands. (it goes the other direction too!)
But what is it really like? Well, let me tell you…
Getting there: (Easy)
Upon your arrival, they are there to take care of you. That is their number one job and you can tell by the way they treat you. They do such a great job by calling passenger by name and standing at attention while you pass by, asking how your day is going and helping you in any way that they can.
If you pre-arrange it, they can pick you up from the airport with a transfer and take you to the docking station in Basel. This particular ship goes back and forth down the Rhine River, so they will pick you up and get you to the ship and checked-in in no time at all. We literally were in our room within minutes upon arrival.
Inside the cabin: (Comfortable)
They will pre issue a stateroom, so you will know which deck and what type of stateroom you will have before going. The photos are easily accessible on the website. My stateroom had two twin comfy beds (they also come with a double), a lot of drawers so you can unpack instead of living out of your suitcase (that is one of the great things about a cruise, right?), a small refrigerator, a safe, plenty of wall outlets for both American and European plugs. It also had a small balcony, which was great when I wanted to sneak out to take photographs as I was gliding down the Rhine!
I also wanted to mention, that although the bathroom is small, it really was perfect in that it had readily available hot water and great water pressure. It even had a heated floor, which is wonderful! The lighting and mirror were excellent for getting ready.
I should also mention that there was free wi-fi, which worked intermittently depending on if we were coming into port and also a large screen TV, which I barely used since we were so busy with excursions. I brought my own laptop (never leave home without it!), but Viking River Cruises offers complimentary two computer stations on board all of their longships. One night, I had so much work to do on my laptop, that I decided to skip dinner. “Did they notice? Well, yes, of course they did! Soon I had a phone call from them wanting to know if I would like dinner in my room!?! Now I know this doesn’t happen every night, but they sure do try to take care of you! And I can tell you from talking to other cruisers, all of the staff eventually figure out who you are and take very good care of each of their guests. They even encourage you to bring local wines onboard and they will uncork and serve with no corkage fees. I also heard an incident of someone that was sick and they also got room service.
One last mention about the room, the maids were also very attentive and left more than enough towels, bath products and extra water bottles in your room whenever you needed it, so you feel like the supply is never ending instead of skimping (luxury), and I love that as a “value luxury” traveler.
How about the excursions? (Fabulous)
This is the closest thing to an all-inclusive cruise you will ever get! Every night in the lounge and right before dinner, the Ship’s Program Director will go over the next day’s options and let you know what is included and what is extra. Honestly, there is enough included that that could keep you plenty busy, but they even offer different optional excursions for an additional charge (pricing varies depending on what the excursion is). The excursions primarily were done by local guides in each port and had excellent knowledge of the area and knew how Viking works, so they kept us on schedule. On your arrival day in your room, you will have a plugged base with brand new earbuds were you will be connected to the group and the guide. I only got lost once, but that was because I wasn’t paying much attention to the group because I was photographing something and missed the turn. I could still hear the guide talking for over 30 minutes, but never could figure out where they were, so I just headed back towards where they dropped us off, so don’t be like me and be a wanderer. I think I was the only one who mentioned getting lost, so I think this is quite unusual.
Once the excursion was over, sometimes around 2 or 3 in the afternoon, you would head back to the cabin and for me, I would either take a nap or work on my laptop, although others would hang out at the lounge or bar for more socializing. Some days we would go out early in the morning, return to the ship for lunch and the have another excursion in the afternoon. The evening consisted a cocktail hour nightly, a daily briefing and then dinner. Also, some people would walk into town on the nights that we were docked in port, as usually most were near something that was easy to get to and interesting. Now, because I went in the winter time, specifically for the Christmas markets, I didn’t spend too much time up on the top deck where they had plenty of lounge chairs and sitting areas, but I imagine that place is full in the summer months.
There are also educational and demonstration classes you can do during the day if you choose to stay on the ship, but they also scheduled them for the afternoons once passengers returned from the daily excursion. Also, I really enjoyed Viking River Cruises emphasis on history, culture and the cuisine of each country that we visited and how they tied in what we were doing on the ship with which country we were in.
Each day there is a buffet option for breakfast and lunch, but you can also order a la carte. The food is fresh and made daily in their gigantic kitchen, as we even had a chance to tour the kitchen, which I thought was a lot of fun and very interesting. They make a daily menu that you can choose from, but they also have a standard menu for those that are not so adventurous, like chicken and fish. They also pair the meals with wines.
One thing I did not expect from this trip was how social everyone was with each other and with the staff. They do not have seating for two, but more like seating for 4, 6, 8, or 10 was very common. They encourage cruisers to meet each other and meet the staff, so by the end, you create a group of “travel friends” that you sit by each night or see at the excursions.
Also, I have been an independent traveler my whole life, so this type of planned daily activities that are not on MY schedule was a bit difficult for me at first, but I tell you it does cut back on all the planning and logistic you have to figure out when someone else does it for you. Each night you are given a “daily paper” that breaks down the times and what will be scheduled for the next day, so that you can take a look at the schedule before you go to the daily briefings.
Pricing (“Value Luxury”)
These cruises can run the gamut of price ranges, depending on which one you choice, how long the trip is and which room and deck you choose. However, that being said, I would like to point out that if you sign up for their emails, I did hear of a few passengers saying they got some great deals and well-priced specials ahead of time for this particular cruise. So the deals are out there, you just have to be on the look out for them. On the other hand, if you choose to splurge, that can easily be done here as well, with the veranda room with balcony, the veranda suites with separate living room and the Explorer Suites. There is something here for everyone, but “value” is all around.
I bet the Vikings didn’t have as much fun as we had on our Viking Longship!
Disclosure: As you know, Viking River Cruises invited me on this trip, but the amazing time I had at the Christmas Markets and on their ship was completely of my own doing!