Let’s start with my opinions of the Viking experience…
It was easy (!) to book, though odd, I thought at the time, that I had to pay the full amount up front, nine moths before the trip. Lo and behold, when as the trip got closer and closer and we still had not received any info from Viking about the trip, we called the agent we booked with to find out he was no longer with the company … I guess that is a way of saying, check out who you’re dealing with. It did not really affect us – no hanky-panky or probelms with our reservations – but next time I will probably be more informed about the agency I book with.
We went on this trip in a group, and that was very common among the passengers on the ship. We were eight people, four couples. It was a good size for the group, as the dining tables on the ship are set up for 8,10,even 12 people for dinner and some tables as small as 6 at other meals. Traveling with a group has both pluses and minuses, as far as the Viking experience goes. For us, the biggest plus was that we were with others our age. Seven of our eight member were between 58-68, out of a total of probably 15 on the ship in that age group. We were the youngest. The biggest minus is that you will not have the same opportunities to eat with other people and make new friends.
The age issue is an important one. As I said, of the 200 passengers on our boat, my guess is that 15 or fewer were under the age of 70. A more active, energetic and enthusiastic group of 70+s would be hard to find – all we met were wonderful, interesting people. But the Viking Cruise is designed for the average 70+ and that means that the difficulty levels of the tours were exaggerated. The amount of physical activity is minimal, too.
The food on the boat was good, but not outstanding. Variety and creativity, certainly freshness and locality were all in abundance, but the food lacked the flare of gourmet. I found everything to be under-seasoned and a little bland. Forget any kind of special diet. Definitely there was no help for a vegan. Vegetarians would be hard pressed to rave about the food. Dairy or egg sensitivity? Forget it! It is not that you couldn’t absolutely follow a non-traditional eating regime, but you would go hungry and you would wonder why you paid so much for the trip to be eating what was available.
Besides the dining room, you could also eat in a more informal setting on the front of the boat. I found many more vegetarian options there – but even the crisp, fresh salads in that area of the ship often had turkey or chicken in them, and almost all the soups had chicken broth or dairy. It was a challenge I chose not to take up in general. I ate what was featured, and as I said, I found everything pretty bland.
When I booked the trip, I imagined myself cruising down a river, drinking wine with my mate over a lovely dinner, watching the sun set over some dramatic European cityscape. Just like the commercials! Well, it wasn’t like that. Partly because we were almost never cruising at sunset, partly because of the time of year, it was not warm enough to be sitting outside sipping wine. Also the cruise is not so much a cruise, as it is a sightseeing tour. If you have read the blog, you will notice that we got off the boat everyday to visit a city or two. Usually those visits also involved riding a bus somewhere…to the extent that one of our group members commented “I am not sure is this is a bus tour with the occasional river cruise, or a river cruise with the occasional bus tour.” The tours are all optional. You do not have to go on them. You can stay on the boat and enjoy the cruising, and it will be very enjoyable, because the boat is empty! But if that is what you want to do, you need to pick your cruise very carefully.
I wanted to take this cruise because I had never been to most of the places we would stop. Natural, right? But in doing so, that meant I was going to be getting off the boat everyday, jumping on a bus, driving somewhere to see that city, then on the bus back to the boat. Our itinerary actually only included one afternoon of scenic cruising – when we were watching the castles as we floated down the Rhine. That was the best day of the trip! But it wasn’t typical. So read the itinerary closely, and decide if you want to “cruise on the river” if the itinerary will allow you to do that. You might decide to take a cruise that covers all places you have already been so that the pressure to get off the boat and go see things is diminished. Likewise if the boat is just the way to get from sight to sight, you will want to choose a cruise itinerary that visits places yu have not been.
Either way, if you’re me, you may have to give yourself permission to stay on the boat and miss a few things in order to have the cruising experience.
The other thing about our itinerary that I would caution you about is the Paris and Prague portions on the front and back end. Both involved 4 hour bus rides to get from those cities to or from the boat. what a waste of time! And, you cannot believe how exhausting it is to sit on a bus for 4 hours! Afterwards you really can’t do anything. our trip took us from Paris to Trier, Germany where we got on the boat – so fortunately once on the boat at least we had dinner provided. On the boat to Prague portion, we arrived in Prague exhausted and on our own for dinner!
Also, do not assume you are going to be able to see much of those great cities. Viking provided a half day tour (bus in Paris, bus and walking in Prague) in both cities. I wrote about both those tours in the blog, so I won’t repeat it, but honestly I would tell you to look for a tour that does not have those portions tacked onto the river cruise.
In general, I was not a fan of the “on your own” meals. the bus drops you in someplace you’ve never been, says go get lunch, and then meet us at 1:00 for a walking tour. Really? In a place we’ve never set foot, we have to find a place to eat – in a rush. From Viking I expected better.
I always ask myself, “Would I do this again?” and here the answer is “maybe.” I will not do it again in the time frame needed to use the $200 credit they gave me for referring a new passenger, because I probably will wait until I am over 70. I would also study the itinerary very carefully and figure out the ratio of time on the boat to time on a bus or a tour. I would choose my stateroom with care, not just based on price. ( I wrote about that too, but to repeat – weather is a factor. A balcony stateroom is lovely, but not if it is too cold to sit on it – which it was most days on our May cruise. The common areas of the boat are very comfortable and nice places in which to spend time when you are on the boat, so a comfortable stateroom is not the be all to end all. I also noticed that the difference in size between the rooms with just a window and those with a sliding glass door is miniscule. So compare the prices, but don’t assume that you should eschew the cheapest room for either size or convenience and consider whether the amenities of the larger rooms are ones that you will use. It is all about value!)
I would like to do another river cruise. Knowing what I know now, I think I will look for an option with a much smaller boat and one that concentrates on the river cruising itself rather than sight seeing.