If the New Year and a clean, fresh calendar don’t offer up enough reasons for you to plan out your 2018 travel schedule, then the Bomb Cyclone that we experienced earlier this month in the Northeast surely should. If you have anything similar to the huge snow drifts that were piled up outside my back door and the howling wind that curled around the side of my house like Old Man Winter on acid, then it would be only natural for you (like me) to be thinking of someplace warm-er or very different from where you are now. And of course, if you‘re thinking of places to go in the not so distant future, you’re also thinking of how to get there. For me, that’s on a Viking River Cruise.
It’s hard to believe that just a few months ago my husband and I were sailing down the Douro River in Portugal on Viking’s Torgil. This was my third river cruise with Viking and the combination of experiencing a new place on both land and water (Portugal’s River of Gold cruise includes two days in a hotel in Lisbon), created an, excuse the expression, “perfect storm” of a vacation for us. This was truly one of my favorites.
Take my advice, ocean liner cruise veterans and cruise neophytes alike, if you are searching for a way to see the world and sail through some of the most beautiful scenery (up close!), the way to do it is on a river cruise, and especially on a river cruise with Viking.
Got questions? I’ve got answers. Let me fill you in on some of the specifics about a river cruise...
How many people are on the riverboats?
Viking’s European ships have a typical capacity of 190 passengers. Compared to huge ocean liners, that’s a downright intimate group. The beauty of this relatively small group is that it encourages a “family-type” vibe. Where ocean liners can be thought of as “floating cities,” I like to think of riverboats as “floating small towns.” There’s an atmosphere of subtlety and even though everything from start to finish is of the highest quality, the fanfare is understated.
What are the accomodations like?
The “Longships” as they are called, offer a variety of stateroom types. My husband and I often stayed in a room that one might call “compact,” but in actuality, it was more than adequate and every inch of space is utilized. The queen bed was comfy, the water was always hot, and the views outside the veranda (each stateroom has one) more than made up for the room size. (Viking does have two-room suites, if you desire a living room and some more space as well.) Sitting outside with a glass of wine, watching the towns go by as you glide down the river is a must. And, taking pictures of the views to post on Instagram for all the folks at home is also a must, as wi-fi is included.
What is there to do on board??
For me, a large part of going on a rvier cruise is to get off the river and see the sights. So, the fact that the longships do not include many of the bells and whistles that one would expect to find on an ocean liner (no health clubs, no double-decker pools with waterfalls), was not that much of an issue for me. I would have appreciated an ellyptical machine, but my husband the runner was able to get his workouts done on land when the ship was docked. And there are opportunities to fit in a vigorous walk on many days, quite often during the excursions. Many of the ships have a library, and guests can be found in the lounge reading, playing cards, board games or chatting while they enjoy the view through the large picture windows. There is entertainment every night in the way of music, and experts are often invited on board to give lectures on history and geography. We like to call it “edutainment.” The view from the sun deck up top can be amazing as well (and sunbathing and hot tubbing are included, weather permitting), as it was when the Torgilsailed into the city of Porto at sunset and we all, armed with our champagne flutes, went up to watch.
How’s the food?
The food is always good and plentiful, and there’s wine on every table! There is one restaurant on board, so everyone eats together. Diners are given many options for each meal, and the kitchen is more than accommodating when it comes to specific dietary needs. Although I couldn’t declare that my love for sardines (yes, I admit that’s odd) would fall under the category of a dietary need, but I will say that the waitstaff was super generous enough to bring me three orders of them on the evening this Portuguese specialty was on the menu. Dessert lovers will appreciate the variety of treats like mousse cake, local specialties, and cookies whenever you want them.
How’s the staff?
Here’s where being part of a relatively small group really has its benefits. Every member of the crew is dedicated to making you feel like family and it is obvious. From the welcome crate of Port that we found in our room when we first boarded the ship in Porto, to the special chocolates that were left for us each night on our Bordeaux cruise, we were well-taken care of. Being on a ship this manageable allows you to really get to know the driving forces (or should we say, sailing forces) behind it. Hearing the captain speak lovingly about his young daughter during dinner one night gave us a gimpse inside the life of a career sailor that we don’t think we could have been privy to on a larger ship.
And the excursions?
Viking offers both included and optional excursions at every stop. The complimentary one is often a bus or walking tour that will provide you with some good basic background of the city. The tour guides are always entertaining and knowledgeable. A visit to a truffle farm in Perigord, France’s truffle hunting capital, where we hunted for truffles and later lunched with the farm’s owner was an optional excursion that I still think about years later.
I have no doubt why Viking was recently voted the #1 River Cruise Line by Condé Nast Traveler. This is a company that really prides itself on service. and providing its guest with a trip that will really feed your soul. Perhaps 2018 is your year to go rolling on the river?
I was compensated for this article, but my opinions are all my own.