To cruise or not to cruise
When I first posed that question in a blog post to TWS readers several years ago, I’d never been on a cruise — other than short scenic cruises (such as those on San Francisco Bay) on small tour boats. I had reservations about cruise travel, but was open-minded as were many of those who commented on the article. There were also others who had very strong feelings, both positive and negative.
There were a few common themes in the responses, most of them referring specifically to ocean cruises, but several that apply to river cruises (to which my comments here apply) as well — land excursions, logistics, social aspects, itineraries, cost, and other opinions and observations I covered in To Cruise or Not to Cruise which you may want to read. Consistent with some of my sentiments in the article, many who left comments expressed skepticism regarding ocean cruises but were very interested in river cruises.
My romance with Viking River Cruises
At the time of my original post, I was intrigued by the idea of a river cruise, especially in Europe. I’ve still taken no ocean cruises, but I’ve taken two wonderful river cruises with Viking River Cruises. The reservations I had about ocean cruises continue to hold today, but I still keep an open mind. However, with river cruises and especially after the two Viking cruises under my belt, I’m very positive. Although I’m writing this post with the Romantic Danube cruise in mind, many of the features I mention are consistent with those we found on our cruise on the Douro River in Portugal.
What we enjoyed on our Romantic Danube cruise
The Romantic Danube itinerary has a nice combination of historic and cultural sites to visit on this scenic cruise through the Germany, Austria, Slovakia, and Hungary. This cruise took us to cities we had never visited — Nuremberg, Regensberg, Krems (Göttweig Abbey), and Passau while allowing us to revisit two of our favorite romantic European cities — Vienna and Budapest.
A peek at new places
Cruises can be great for allowing you to feel the excitement of a new destination while you get an introduction to what the destination has to offer. They enable you to enjoy seeing many new places and also to get an idea about which places you’d like to revisit another time in more detail, perhaps to have a more “travel like a local” experience, if you choose.
Mr. TWS and I have enjoyed varied experiences when it comes to travel logistics and accommodations. From a 10-day trip that had us in 8 different hotels to three months in a midtown Manhattan apartment and many other options in between. Though we like to be on the move and adapt to situations with changing accommodations, there’s something wonderful about unpacking only once for an entire trip. And on a cruise, you get to see many locations and sights over a wide area with the luxurious convenience of no repacks.
Organized tours and guides
Consistent with our Portugal cruise, we found the local Viking guides in each port to be fun, knowledgeable, and proud of their cities and/or regions. We were happy we decided to take the included city tours at each of the Danube ports. Primarily, the guides took us on foot (and sometimes by coach) to main sites while they added their commentary, information, and anecdotes. The guided tours in each destination provided a good overview of key highlights in each city while still providing free time for our own sightseeing.
In Passau, we particularly found Christopher (shown above) to be a great guide. Although most of the passengers took advantage of these tours, they aren’t mandatory and you can stay on board or explore on your own, if you like.
Cruise with a view
A cruise is perfect for getting spectacular views of the scenes as you glide along from the comfort of your stateroom, at breakfast or dinner, or from the sun deck. One of the most beautiful parts of our Danube journey was an 18 miles stretch through Austria’s Wachau Valley with views of hillside vineyards, charming villages, and imposing monasteries. We made a point to be up top on the sun deck to fully experience the scenes on a bright sunny December morning.
Attentive and lively crew
The Viking Gullveig crew was always ready to help and working to make the cruise as comfortable, safe, and fun as possible. Program Director Anthony Papandrea and Hotel Manager Jürgen Purgstaller fully engaged everyone during the daily briefings providing useful information and leading entertaining demonstrations — even dressing up in their lederhosen (seen top center in photo below) for German night.
Maître d’ Panayot Tsvetkov attentively made certain that our dining experiences were enjoyable, for example by ensuring that Mr. TWS’s pescetarian diet requirements were met and by providing great wine recommendations. The service staff was always cheerful and housekeeping kept our stateroom tidy and well-supplied – it was always pleasant to come home to the room at night.
In each port, there were optional (additional cost) shore excursions to choose from beyond the included tours. In Vienna, Mr. TWS and I really liked a traditional Viennese winery experience on the cruise’s “Heurigen Evening” optional excursion. We wrote about it in our post Good Cheer and High Spirits in Vienna.
Other optional excursions on the cruise included day trips to see the highlights of Salzburg, Austria and Munich, Germany. Other in-port optional activities such as a Bavarian beer festival, a Mozart and Stauss concert, and a dip in the Budapest thermal baths provided for special cultural experiences.
If you enjoy great food and wine, there’s no shortage of either on board. Dining aboard the Viking Gullveig was a real pleasure. Each meal was beautifully prepared by Executive Chef Ronald Waasdorp and his staff, often incorporating regional styles and flavors. We chose the chef’s recommended dishes, but there were also several other selections of lighter fare available at any meal.
Each day started with a great breakfast buffet. Although there were many options of meats, cheeses, bread, pastry, fruit, etc., I mostly stayed with the same thing every morning — made-to-order cheese omelet, bacon, cheese Danish, and some fruit. Service was always cheerful and the food choices were abundant, hot, delicious, and promptly served – making for a pleasant way to start the day.
On this trip, we opted to purchase the Silver Spirits premium beverage package. Since we were kicking off the holidays and would also be celebrating Mr. TWS’s birthday onboard, it seemed to make a lot of economic sense and offered a wonderful selection of wines beyond the house wine. During a cheese and wine tasting on our first evening, we sampled some of the vintages that would be available and compared them to the house wines which are complimentary with lunch and dinner.
The Gullveig is one of Viking’s Longships with 95 staterooms. Although larger than the Viking Hemming which we cruised on the Douro, it is still small enough to provide an intimate and uncrowded experience. Our stateroom had a veranda which really added to our enjoyment even though the winter weather kept us mostly indoors while in the room.
Ease of planning and logistics
It was a pleasure working with the Viking travel representatives who do the searching for flights and times, and following up with all pertinent information and confirmations. It’s nice to have someone else taking care of the transportation details. Viking staff met us at the airport in Nuremberg and escorted to the Budapest airport on our final morning.
No matter how often I travel or how experienced with the realities of travel transportation I become, I always feel a little anxious about making sure that everything will go smoothly and on time. While traveling with Viking, their managing of the planning and operational details was a real luxury and a nice change of pace.
Taking this cruise would be fun at any time of year, but during the Christmas holidays it was particularly festive on board and we were in a very festive spirit ourselves. Unlike our Portugal trip on which we often went to our stateroom after a full day of excursions and a leisurely dinner, on the Romantic Danube cruise we usually ended our evening with a nightcap (or two) in the lounge enjoying the entertainment, dancing, and making new friends.
There is open seating in the dining room with most tables accommodating six to eight people (there are a few that are smaller and larger). There is no assigned seating, giving passengers the opportunity to either find a quiet spot, find like-minded people to sit with each day, or branch out and meet new people – changing dining mates at each meal.
So is there anything I haven’t liked about my river cruises?
Like most of my travel experiences, the only downside was that it had to come to an end. As the saying goes, “Time flies when you’re having fun.” And we had lots of fun on these two Viking cruises.
Is a cruise for you?
We all have different travel styles and many of us enjoy various styles. There is no wrong way to travel. So when it comes to cruises, evaluate your travel mood and goals as you would for any trip. There are so many options today even beyond choosing between ocean or river cruising. Consider the ship size and configuration, cost, specific itinerary, and length of cruise.
Just select the right cruise for you!
Relax and enjoy. If you’re used to planning your own itineraries, making hotel reservations, and dealing with logistics, consider this a well-deserved vacation.
Pre- and post-trips arranged by Viking can give you time on either or both ends of the cruise to extend your time and more deeply experience a place.
Are you a loner? Can you find solitude on a cruise? Although there are plenty of opportunities to find a little solitude on a cruise, I think they are most enjoyed if you’re open to being social. Meals in the dining room lend themselves to making conversation with others and sharing the experience.
Be open-minded about your fellow passengers. The majority of passengers on our cruise appeared to be of the baby boomer generation (like us) or older, but there were younger couples, too. In fact, two of the people we shared several meals and a lot of laughs with were a newlywed couple in their twenties. I can’t give you a complete breakdown of the passenger demographics, but most with whom we spoke on the cruise were American, British, and Australian. I know a few younger, single women who took Vikingriver cruises solo and they enjoyed interacting with the primarily older passengers. I also hear that younger people are becoming more interested in river cruises.
Would we like to cruise again?
Yes! I loved all of the features I’ve mentioned. But I also enjoy my travel experiences that I’ve personally planned, that were location-intensive, culturally oriented, physically active, etc. For Mr. TWS and me, river cruises are a wonderful alternative form of travel to have in our portfolio as we like a variety of experiences. About ocean cruises — we’re still on the fence, but are quite open-minded.
What are your thoughts about cruising whether it’s ocean or river cruising?
Thanks to Viking River Cruises for the wonderful hospitality on our Romantic Danube cruise.