Viking is a travel brand commonly thought of as synonymous with European river cruising, for a number of good reasons. Easy-to-navigate online Viking resources make planning easy. In price comparisons with other river cruise lines, Viking comes out ahead. Itineraries range from classic Rhine/Danube sailings to exotic China, Russia and Portugal offerings. Those are all good reasons to consider a Viking Viking River Cruise. But what makes Viking perfect? That’s another story that takes a bit more detail to tell.
Viking River Cruise crew members come from the part of the world in which their ship sails. It is not uncommon to pass by the hometown of a cabin steward on one itinerary or a favorite place of a waiter on another. That makes for happier crew members which translates to a better experience for travelers.
Also not hard to find: crew members who came from the world of big ship ocean cruising. They appreciate being one of 50 crew on a Viking Longship as opposed to one of thousands on a big ocean ship. Life is good for them and includes a Viking-exclusive benefit: a retirement program. That has the best of river cruise crew members lining up to get on a Viking ship.
A big part of any cruise experience is dining and river cruises are no exception. On a Viking River Cruise, the menu changes as the ship sails from one country to another, reflecting the local culture and cuisine. Better yet, beer and/or wine also changes as the ship sails through some of the most renowned regions of production in the world.
Throw in that those evolving vintages are included in the price for good measure in and of itself would make for a better than average value. That there are onboard programming includes culinary demonstrations, tastings and geo-specific events is an unexpected bonus.
One of the commonly misunderstood parts of river cruising is that itineraries often vary from what is published in a brochure. Compared to ocean cruises where ships go from place to place with few variations, river cruises commonly adjust itineraries for a variety of reasons. High or low water levels can cause a modification of an itinerary that results in what is called a “ship swap”.
Say the river level is too high to go under a bridge. River cruise lines with just a few ships will cancel the sailing travelers commonly plan far in advance, ruining their trip. If they have enough ships, they the passengers will move from one ship on one side of the bridge to another on the other side. The two ships involved in the swap might be different, better or worse than the one left behind. The large fleet of identical Viking Longships makes ship swaps a breeze with few cancellations.
We don’t have to look far to find river cruise lines and ships with more features. Some try to provide an experience on the river that is similar to an ocean cruise. While that effort might be appreciated and seem attractive to fans of ocean cruises, it is a futile effort for the most part. River cruise ships are limited by size. They can not be any taller than the lowest bridge they will pass under. They can not be any wider than one of the numerous locks they will pass through. One of the big factors in the value of a Viking River Cruise comes from the fact that they know why travelers come to Europe for a river cruise: to see the places along the river. Not to have a treatment in a tiny spa or use one of a few machines in an exercise room.
Also adding to the bona fide value of a Viking River Cruise: frequently-offered special pricing on airfare. That’s significant as airfare is one part of the total cost of a river cruise that is unavoidable. In the United States, it is not uncommon for cruise travelers to be able to drive to the port of embarkation. That is not an option on a European river cruise which is going to cost more than a swing through the Caribbean anyway, regardless of the cruise line chosen. Here again the massive Viking Longship fleet enables the cruise line to contract with air carriers for discounted rates.
All of the above considered gets us close to what makes Viking perfect for your river cruise but not entirely there. What seals the deal with Viking is actually a side effect of everything else they do. When it is all said and done, when travelers are on their way back home after sailing with Viking, one element of the overall experience brings them back for more: it was a very personal experience that exceeded their expectations. I don’t know that we can ask for more than that from any travel company.
Chris Owen shares frank, inside information about cruise vacations on ChrisCruises.com.