Viking River Cruises: Traveling the world the Viking way
(Story previously published in Canstar weeklies)
Viking Cruises is an international company that operates the world’s largest fleet of river cruise vessels in Europe, Russia, China, Southeast Asia, and Egypt. Combining the ancient Viking tradition of exploring great waterways, with the most elegant comforts and luxuries, results in a sophisticated journey that’s second to none.
Viking’s state-of-the-art river boats are called ‘longships’ – and they are long. They’re also flat and streamlined to effectively traverse narrow locks and low-lying bridges. Compared to gigantic ocean liners, they’re considered small, with only three inside decks. On top is the very popular sundeck, where you can stretch out on loungers for 360-degree views of the ever-changing and charming European countryside.
Our ship, the Viking Tor, accommodated 189 guests during an eight-day cruise along the Danube River, from Nuremberg, Germany, to Budapest, Hungary. The first impression as you step onboard is the bright and spacious atrium-style lobby. The staff members who greet you are warm and welcoming, and quick to escort you into the lounge to get your bearings after a long day (or two) of international travel.
Viking Tor has 95 stylish staterooms, each with veranda, French balcony, or picture window. Guests enjoy large comfy beds, private bathroom, premium bath products, bottled water and fresh fruit, and 40” flat-panel TVs with infotainment system. Watch television or movies, listen to music, or review your daily detailed itinerary and regional maps. You can also flip on a “live cam” that shows the lounge, and maybe catch some music by Doroteya, the talented onboard pianist/vocalist from Bulgaria.
The restaurant is designed with floor-to-ceiling windows so you never have to miss a moment of the picture-perfect landscape. The food is the finest and freshest, with daily specials reflecting regional cuisine. Serving staff are top-notch, tending to your every dining need. If you sit in the right section you might get served by Boris, also from Bulgaria, who keeps you laughing with an arsenal of jokes.
Viking’s cruises are all-inclusive, with all onboard meals included. So are wine, beer and soft drinks during meals, and coffee, tea, cappuccino and cookies at the 24-hour beverage bar. The Viking Culture Curriculum program brings history and tradition onboard through cooking demonstrations, performances by local musicians and dancers, and enrichment lectures. Like the talk given by Sorin, Viking Tor’s program director, who shared candid and honest stories about growing up in Romania.
As awesome as the ship is, you’ll want to leave it every now and then. Carefully crafted itineraries offer a mix of cosmopolitan and smaller, more rustic, ports. Sometimes you’ll dock overnight in select places like Venice, for a chance to get out and take long walks, visit a fair, or see some nightlife.
Daily shore excursions are led by resident guides who truly know the region and customs. Like Christel in Regensburg, fully dressed in traditional Dirndlgewand, who explained that on Sundays, most locals go to church, then go for beer. After our tour, she pointed us in the direction of the nearest biergarten, then proceeded to head to a biergarten herself.
Sometimes the onshore experiences are exclusive only for Viking guests, like the church organ concert at St. Stephen’s Cathedral in Passau, a baroque church constructed in the 1600’s. It is adorned with an incredibly ornate interior that you just can’t stop looking at, and Europe’s largest church organ boasting 17,974 pipes. Hearing the concert in that stunning setting was positively heavenly.
There’s a reason why Viking has been named “World’s Best River Cruise Line” for 11 years in a row by Travel + Leisure. They take utmost pride in providing travel of the highest standards, and treating every single guest like someone special. Making for one exceptional vacation I won’t soon forget.