We’ve all seen the commercials. The beautiful boat floating down Europe’s most beautiful rivers, while in the background lay stunning cities and villages. Ahhh Viking River cruises. Even just thinking about it will likely cause you to read the rest of this post with a British accent. But what’s it like to actually be on board one of the world’s most famous river cruises lines?
The cruises, which allow you to explore renowned rivers like the Rhine or the Danube, or even the far off lands of China and Russia, are well known for their exciting itineraries, stunning accommodations, and special perks. But what is a Viking River cruise really like? And what are the things you should know before you get on the boat? I was recently invited to experience a cruise, which took us from historic Frankfurt to the unforgettable city of Amsterdam. It was seven days that I’ll never forget, here are some of the things I learned along the way.
Fit for a foodie!
Truthfully, I was nervous about the food. So much so that we went to the grocery store before we even got on the board. Years of hearing stories of the food on cruise ships had me scared. But over the seven days, we probably had some of the best food I had ever eaten, and I mean anywhere. I think I was scared of “cruise ship” food, but the food aboard the Viking cruise couldn’t have been further from what I was expecting, which was a good thing. It was the kind of food you have on uber special occasions like weddings or anniversary, but like every day. I couldn’t believe it. Every day the ship offers breakfast, lunch and dinner in their dining room, or you can go a bit more casual an eat in the bar, which has lighter food. Depending how much time we had at each stop, we’d either have the fancier meal, but if we didn’t have much time, we’d grab a quick casual bite and then head back out. So much exploring to do!
But don’t just eat on the boat!
While the food on the boat was delicious, if you’re going on the boat, I’d recommend that you find a night or two to get off the boat and explore the town and find a great place to eat. Depending on the day’s schedule, you’ll often be docked for most of the day, so finding a small café for breakfast or a local’s favourite for dinner is definitely an experience. If nothing else, finding sometime to hang out in a local pub is always an enlightening experience.
The balcony is definitely worth it!
Just like a plane, there’s different levels of rooms. Different sizes, different amenities, things like that. One of the upgrades available is the option to have your own patio, and if this fits your budget, then I say definitely go ahead and splurge. The boat offers lots of vistas, but one of the things I’ll never forget was both falling asleep and waking up to the sights and sounds of Germany and Holland as they float by outside your own deck. Or grabbing a coffee and sitting on your patio as you watch the busy lives of those who live in the quaint towns that we North Americans can only dream of. Our patio really was one of my favourite things of the whole trip.
Oh and I’m not sure if it’s possible, but when you’re booking, if you can find out which days the boat is docked overnight and then ask if you can book your room based on that schedule, you might get more use of your patio. Ideally you want your patio to always be facing the river.
There’s room to breathe!
Whenever I watched the commercials before our trip, I always said “Oh yeah, that dining table looks nice, so does that lounge, but we’ll never be able to sit there.” That’s because before I got on the boat I was comparing the experience to like how when you go to a beach resort and all the good seats are taken before you even get out of bed. I sort of thought the Viking River Cruise would be like that. But to my surprise, there wasn’t just a good seat in the lounge, or a great table in the dining room, there were a ton of them. Not once during the entire week did I not get the seat that I wanted. What I didn’t realize was how big the boat was, how many different spots there would be to relax and how everyone likes to travel. So while I like being out of my room and enjoying the public spaces, lots of people like sticking to their room and enjoying their time there. It’s a perfect situation for everyone.
Take advantage of the concierge!
Getting on to the boat, I was a bit of a snob. I’m a pretty comfortable traveler, and I’m usually okay navigating new streets and towns. But I wish I had taken advantage of the on-board concierge. Our own stubbornness caused us to waste way too much time trying to find things on our own, when really there was someone on board that could have easily helped us. We didn’t start using them until the second last day. The problem with a trip like Viking River cruises is that there are lot of things to do. I’m used to travelling on my own, meaning I can make my own schedule. But with the cruise, there’s lots to see, so you really want to limit how much time you end up wasting on your own. There’s help, use them to help you find cool restaurants, bike rentals, unique photo opportunity. They’re experts, why not ask them?
On your schedule!
The idea of a group tour scares a lot of people because they like the idea of making their own schedule and doing theirs at their pace. I’m usually like that too. But what I liked about this Viking cruise was that you really got to do whatever you wanted. It was as scheduled or not scheduled as you wanted it to be. Every day, you get the next day’s schedule and you can decide if you want to do what they have planned or if you want to do your own thing, which is totally okay. If you’re like me, you don’t find every museum and church fascinating, that’s okay! But because it’s basically a group tour, a lot of the stuff that you would probably see anyway is taken care of. Whether it’s with a local guide or even on a tour bus. It really is the best of both worlds. I will say that it took us a few days to figure this out. We actually met a couple and we said we felt bad because we sometimes wanted to do our own thing, and their response? “We don’t do a single tour they have planned. The entire time we do our own thing, and so can you!”
It’s okay to relax!
I think I’m a part of the generation of travelers who hates travel “hand-outs.” We want to think that we were the first people ever to find this castle or cool old bar. We don’t want to look like tourists, we want to be locals. We want to pretend we’re aren’t visiting, but that we live there. And the idea of actually getting a good night’s sleep isn’t what “traveling is all about.” Which may be true in some cases. But in this case, why not just enjoy it? The cool thing about the Viking cruise was that your hotel room comes with you. I can’t tell you how great it was to unpack completely on the first day and not have to wake up every morning and try to squeeze everything back into the bag. Instead of worrying about all the things you worry about when you’re traveling by yourself, you can just get a good night’s sleep and get ready every morning, excited to see what’s in store. Call me an old-soul, but sometimes that too is what traveling is all about.
And those traveling die-hards are going to hate this, but I’ll be the first to admit that I quite enjoyed having a nice TV in our room, with surround sound. The TVs were uploaded with a slew of movies and TV shows including, yes, every episode of Downtown Abbey. No matter how you get around, traveling is exhausting and it’s hot, so if you want to put your feet up and watch a movie, or catch up on the ever scandalous lives of the Crawley family, then you should be able to do it. While I know I won’t always travel by river boat, I can tell you that the relaxation I felt on that boat was instantly addictive. And yes, the boats have wifi too.
Find your travel buddies!
Just like any time a group of people are put together, there’s going to be different types of people, and a cruise is no different. Now I’m a weird traveler. I like chatting with people, but I’m scared of getting too committed, because what happens if they end up wanting to see things too slowly, or too quickly? That happens, that’s fine. And sure you could stick to yourself, there’s nothing stopping you. But I think finding a handful of people that you can do some tours with, or have a cocktail with, makes the trip that much more fun. We all contribute different things when it comes to traveling, so forming a small alliance is definitely a good thing. That way you’re sure not to miss anything, but also see and do the things you really want to. Cocktail hour on the boat is the perfect time to audition new travel buddies. It’s sort of like dating, if it goes poorly, it’s just one drink. But if it goes well, well it could make your trip a whole lot more fun!
Halfway through the trip, I sent a joke to my mom via a text. “I think I know why everyone in the Viking commercials are so happy, they’re all a little bit drunk.” My mom, who’s been on several Viking cruises, replied: “I know, that’s why I like them.” We were both sort of joking. I know this won’t be that important to some, but the fact that the bars are complimentary during breakfast, lunch and supper is definitely a fun bonus. And they’re not shy to make sure you’re never thirsty. During the rest of the time, you have to pay for drinks, but the prices are fair and I’m not sure how anyone could sit on a sunny rooftop decks with castles in the distance, and not have a cold beer or glass of wine in their hand. And yes, I did say breakfast. You’re on vacation, have a mimosa.
Don’t get too comfortable!
This is just a small warning to not get too comfortable. Because of the way the cruise is set up, once you’re on board you don’t worry about anything. The cashless policy The food’s taken care of, the tours are too. So when you get off the boat at the end of the trip, even though it’s only been seven days, you’d be amazed how quickly you adapt to the lap of luxury. No word of a lie, the first restaurant we ate at after we got off the boat in Amsterdam we left without paying. Now we’re good people and we weren’t trying to be sneaky, we just totally forgot about the thing humans do, which is pay for the food they were just given. The waitress was great about it and we all laughed it off, but if that’s not proof how of a Viking cruises forces you to leave your worries behind, nothing is.
Stay Up Late!
Every day the schedule is different, which means sometimes you travel overnight and other times, you’re docked for the night. I honestly couldn’t tell you which I prefered. The nights we traveled, it was so peaceful to watch the small towns as we cruised by, but the nights we were docked allowed us to see these european cities like never before. In some cases, they really come alive at night, so the fact that we didn’t have to rush back to the boat was really fantastic.
Use my name!
While I was nearing the end of my trip, I got an email from a stranger who had been following along on Twitter. She said that my photos had convinced her to go ahead and book the trip they had been thinking about forever. Near the end of the booking process, the agent asked if anyone had recommended Viking River Cruises to them, and she just went ahead and used my name. And voila! A discount! Now, I’m not sure how much, but I think it was just like a referral discount, but still! A discount is a discount. So go ahead and use my name. Just tell me where you’re going so I can follow along on social media and be jealous of your own Viking River Cruise adventure!