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What to Expect On A Viking River Cruise

I'm almost certain we discovered the perfect way to explore Europe. It's a combination of cultural offerings, insider access, and carefree travel. And it's all packed in a posh experience that you'd never want to end. Yes, I'm talking about river cruises. And if you've never been on one before, you are missing out. Big time!

River cruises are all the rage right now. They are actually one of the fastest-growing segments of the travel industry. And after our experience with Viking River Cruises last December, we can totally understand why.

What to Expect On A Viking River Cruise
Viking Vili moored in Melk

Advantages of a Viking river cruise over other, more traditional types of travel


  • Easy logistics. You only have to choose the itinerary. Viking takes care of everything else down to the very last detail.
  • You only have to unpack once.
  • Your ship is like a floating boutique hotel. 
  • You can drink all the wine you want. Someone else is at the helm.
  • It's impossible to get bored.
  • You will go as a guest and leave as part of the family.
  • High-end amenities combined with smart design and Scandinavian efficiency.

I previously wrote about our Castles and Legends itinerary with Viking River Cruises, but you probably still have lots of questions. 

What's the average age of the guests? 
How does the dining work? 
How much free time do you have to explore each stop? 
Is there a dress code on board? 
What are the staterooms like?

I get it, I had the same questions like you do. So I'll try my best to cover all aspects of the cruise. However, if after reading this article you still have questions, don't be shy. Just drop me a line in the comments section below. Deal?

What to Expect On A Viking River Cruise
The bell

Pre-trip preparations


My husband and I booked our cruise 1 year in advance, but that's just because we are obsessed with planning. Soon after, we received an email with a link to My Viking Journey, where we could customize our cruise experience, explore the ship and most importantly, book shore excursions. While many of the tours are already included in the cruise package, some of them are optional and they are better booked in advance due to limited availability. This not only allowed us to plan our daily schedule way before the cruise but we also gained access to our own personalized calendar.

A few months before the trip, we received a package in the mail. It included a personalized booklet highlighting our itinerary as well as information about each destination we were about to visit; two beautiful red leather tags; two stickers to use upon our arrival at the airport; two paper tags so our luggage could be seamlessly delivered to our hotel room or stateroom; and a fabric toiletry bag.

What to Expect On A Viking River Cruise
The Aquavit Terrace at the bow of the ship offers al fresco dining in warm weather

Airfare and transfers


If you hate planning or simply don't have time for trivial stuff like booking airfare, Viking River Cruises makes your life easy by taking care of your plane tickets as well. Since we knew we were going to be in Europe at the time anyways, we declined. Nevertheless, we booked the airport transfer with them, which saved us a headache.

As we landed in Munich, we were greeted by one of Viking's representatives. A taxi was already waiting for us and we enjoyed the quickest transfer to our hotel. Lukas, the tour director for the land section of the trip, was waiting for us in the lobby and briefed us shortly, handing up the schedule for the next few days.

What to Expect On A Viking River Cruise
Viking Vili docked in Durnstein


Before and after the cruise


For most of their itineraries, Viking offers before and after land extensions or extra hotel nights. Our Castles & Legends itinerary included 4 nights by land and 7 nights on board Viking Vili. A post-extension in Budapest was available, but since it was Christmas, we preferred to spend the holidays with family and friends.

For the land section of our itinerary, we were a group of about 30 people. But once we embarked in Passau, we became a group of 174 people. Some of the guests were taking only the river cruise; others proceeded from itineraries that included different land sections.

Both our Munich and Salzburg hotels were carefully picked. The 4-stars Sheraton Munich was located a few subway stops away from the city center and boasted modern amenities, large rooms, and a pretty amazing breakfast.

What to Expect On A Viking River Cruise
Typical German breakfast at Sheraton Munich

On the other hand, the 5-star Radisson Blu Altstadt, located in a building dating back to medieval times, was right in the heart of Salzburg. It had exemplary staff that remembered our room number better than we did (true story!), heated bathroom floors, exposed beams, and charming rooms, although not 2 were alike.

Transfer between Munich and Salzburg and later on between Salzburg and Passau was by motor coach, which was comfortable, clean, and quite efficient. Every time we changed location, our luggage was loaded onto the bus, traveled with us to the destination, and later on brought to our new room or stateroom by the staff, due to the little paper tags mentioned earlier. Quite neatly organized and we didn't have to lift a finger ourselves.

What's the ship like?


Viking's longships are floating boutique hotels. We didn't know what to expect, but we were quite impressed by the cozy and comfortable design of the rooms and common areas. Think clean lines, neutral colors, and sleek surfaces.

Guests embark on the middle deck, right into the reception area. Just like a normal hotel, Viking ships have 24/7 reception. This is where we checked in (you'd be surprised how quick that was!), collected and dropped our boarding passes every time we went out, could book shore excursions, etc.

What to Expect On A Viking River Cruise
Reception area with stairs to the upper deck

Also on the middle deck, there is the open-seating restaurant where the fancy version of the breakfast, lunch, and dinner is served. The restaurant has large tables for 8 people and floor to ceiling windows. You can seat wherever you want, which means you get to meet lots of people and make many new friends. It also means you end up introducing yourself several times during the week.

A wide staircase leads to the upper deck, which boasts a library with a decent amount of books as well as table games. Towards the bow, there is a large lounge area and a bar where you can order cocktails all day long. At the very front of the ship is the Aquavit Terrace where an early breakfast, as well as a lighter, buffet style lunch and dinner, are served daily.

What to Expect On A Viking River Cruise
Aquavit Terrace. The sliding doors are closed in winter but the views are still amazing

It's amazing how smoothly everything seemed to run on the ship. The organization was first-rate, and although there might have been some dramas behind the scenes, we never learned about them. There were 49 crewmembers from 14 nationalities (mostly European and Asian). This means almost 1 crewmember for every 3 passengers. And they all made it work. Which makes you think this world has lots to learn from them.

What are the staterooms like?


Our stateroom was located on the upper floor. It had a balcony (unfortunately, it was too cold to use it for anything other than snapping a quick picture every now and then) and floor to ceiling windows.

The bed was super comfortable and the 40" flat-screen TV had complimentary movies on demand, including The Sound of Music and Amadeus, which were perfectly in sync with the theme of the trip.

What to Expect On A Viking River Cruise
Our stateroom

What to Expect On A Viking River Cruise
How cute is that towel animal?

There was also a hair-dryer (so you don't need to bring yours from home), a mini-fridge, a generous laptop size safe, several American and European outlets, as well as plenty of storage space (drawers, hangers, shelves).

A gold star needs to be given for the incredibly space-efficient bathroom. Although small, it didn't feel cramped at all and it had heated floors, which is always a plus, especially if you travel in winter. A second gold star goes to the fog-free mirror.

What to Expect On A Viking River Cruise
Super space-efficient bathroom

As we embarked, a bottle of champagne was already waiting for us in the room. Additionally, we received complimentary water and a plate of fresh fruits (think strawberries, blueberries, and raspberries among other seasonal fruits) every single day.

What to Expect On A Viking River Cruise
Daily plate of fruits in our room

However, while our room was certainly impressive by any hotel standards, let alone a floating one, the pinnacle of perfection was Razvan, the steward who made up our room. If you think towel animals are impressive, wait until you have someone folding your clothes for you. Twice a day!

Our stateroom always looked perfect, the bathroom was always clean, and our personal items carefully organized. Seriously, this guy was so amazing I wanted to take him home with me. We've stayed in many 5-star and even 5-star deluxe hotels, but nowhere else was so much attention paid to every little detail. You can understand why I didn't want this cruise to end, right?

What's the average age of the Viking River Cruises guests?


While you might still hold on to the misconception that river cruise are for the elderly, let me stop you right there. River cruises in general start from the premises that you wake up in a different location every day. There is at least one shore excursion that you can join in each port, and they usually involve either a few hours of walking or a walking/bus combo.

The Viking river cruises are tailored for active adults interested in the cultural aspects of the destinations they visit. 

Let me put it this way. My husband and I took it pretty slow compared with other trips. This means many days we preferred to return to the ship as soon as the guided tour was over because...
  1. We really loved spending time in our stateroom and in the lounge and we wanted to take advantage of our time on board as much as possible.
  2. We had previously visited some of the places, some more than once.
  3. It was December and there were some pretty cold days, although we also had beautiful sunny days that felt like spring.
Regardless, our Fitbit still counted an average of 15k steps per day each.

Of course, no one says you have to join any of the trips. You can spend the whole day in your stateroom watching Downton Abbey if so you please and nobody will tell you otherwise.

To answer the question, there were plenty of people in their 30s. Probably just a few in their 20s. There were no kids on board, and to be honest, I don't think the Viking river cruises are tailored for kids anyways. And as a punchline, some of the people in their 60s were fitter than me.

Most guests were from the US, Canada, Australia, and the UK, but we were all friends on board.

What to Expect On A Viking River Cruise
The bar and lounge area

What to Expect On A Viking River Cruise
The lounge area

What's included in the cruise?


That's a very good question and it's something I've been asked quite often. And my answer is... a whole lot! Almost everything on board and most shore excursions is included. But let's break it down.

Included:
  • Your stateroom
  • Breakfast, lunch, and dinner, including beer, wine, and soft drinks with the main meals
  • On board entertainment, including live music, quiz nights, workshops, etc.
  • Onboard Wifi
  • 10 shore excursions including local guides, transportation, headsets and in some cases sampling local delicacies
  • Cookies, tea, coffee and hot chocolate available round the clock at the two coffee stations by the lounge
  • Daily bottle of water and a plate of fruits in your room
  • Top-notch twice-daily housekeeping service
  • Lot's of smiles and an amazing crew

Not included:
  • The drinks at the bar and anything other than draft beer, house wine and soft drinks with the main meals. 
  • Optional excursions
  • Gratuities

Viking has something called the Silver Spirits Package that can be purchased separately, and it includes unlimited drinks any time of the day, plus you can take bottles to your room.

Another great thing about Viking River Cruises is that you can buy wine (or anything else) ashore, bring it on board where they will open it for you and provide you glasses to use with no corkage fee.

What to Expect On A Viking River Cruise
Scenic cruise along Wachau Valley, Austria

Is there a dress code on board?


The dress code on board is casual. People tend to dress up a bit more for Captain's dinner, but nothing really fancy. I mean, no ties, suits, and cocktail dresses. I had actually packed a strapless dress but then I felt out of place and decided against it because nobody was wearing such dressy clothes. 

How much free time do you have to explore each stop? 


It really depends on you. There are daily shore excursions included (and some optional as well), but if you decide you'd rather explore on you own, you are free to do so. There's no such thing as mandatory excursions or meals onboard Viking River Cruises. The atmosphere is incredibly relaxed because the idea is to make your cruise your own.

What to Expect On A Viking River Cruise
One of the many nooks and crannies where guests can relax on Viking Vili

That being said, you are always given a certain hour to be back on the ship. That is because river cruise ships have a schedule to go through locks. If the captain doesn't set sail before a certain time, there is the risk of being late and the whole cruise schedule is turned upside down.

Also, the European river cruises are meant for the guests to take in the charming villages and towns that line the waterway. Most of the stops on our trip (except Vienna and Budapest) didn't need more time that they were allocated. Even Budapest, in all honesty, was covered pretty well by the shore excursions available. I wrote a detailed account of our itinerary here.

How does the dining work?


There are two dining venues on Viking Vili, which gave us the possibility to choose between a quick, casual, buffet style meal in the Aquavit Terrace or a traditional 3-course sit-down lunch or dinner. 

Also, the open-seating concept meant that we could sit somewhere different every time and meet new people and make friends almost daily.

What to Expect On A Viking River Cruise
Dinner

What to Expect On A Viking River Cruise
Dessert

The breakfast buffet includes pastries, cereals, salads, fruits, bacon, sausages, cheeses, eggs Benedict, French toast and so on. A dedicated chef mans an omelet station so you can choose the ingredients yourself. While American favorites are present, regional specialties from each port of call are also available. That being said, the pancakes were to die for and I could have had them every single day.

What to Expect On A Viking River Cruise
Loved these pancakes!

Lunch and dinner were inspired by the cuisine of the countries we were passing through and honestly, they didn't serve anything we didn't like. There were always 3 starters and 3 main courses to choose from and no dish showed up on the menu more than once during the duration of the cruise. The red and white wine included with the meals also changed daily, to match the chef's recommendation. 

What about entertainment on board?


To start with, we joined all shore excursions that didn't overlap. This way we were ashore several hours per day. But there was never a dull moment on board either. On the contrary, there was so much to do; it almost felt overwhelming at times.

Scenic cruising was only part of the fun. Since days are quite short in Europe in December, and it was too cold to stay on the sun deck for anything longer than 5 minutes, most of our time on board was spent in the lounge chatting with newly made friends or in the restaurant, eating.

What to Expect On A Viking River Cruise
Dari, the onboard musician, playing the piano

We loved that there always seemed to be something going on in the lounge. If Dari, the onboard musician, wasn't singing and playing the piano, there was Meike, our program director, giving us an overview of the next day's schedule or a talk on European Christmas traditions. Or a gingerbread-decorating workshop was taking place. Or we were decking the Christmas tree. Or we were being spoiled rotten with Hungarian tea and cakes. Or it was cocktail hour. Or carol singers were coming on board. Or it was quiz night. Or dance night. You get the idea.

Some of the guests chose to spend their time on board playing cards. Some read books. But I think what I liked best whenever we were sailing in between ports was the relaxed atmosphere that constantly reminded me of the famous meme: 'I don't want to adult today. I don't even want to human today. Today, I want to cat.' And the best part was that nobody told me otherwise.

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What to Expect On A Viking River Cruise


Disclaimer: We were guests of Viking River Cruises, but all options are our own.

9 comments:

  1. Oh, wow, your Viking ship looks amazing!

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  2. This is awesome! I can't say I haven't thought about Christmas in Europe... but a Christmas river cruise? This is genius!

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  3. What an amazing cruise!

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  4. This seems to be one of the best ways to experience Europe.

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  5. What a great idea for my vacation in Europe!

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  6. I love your pics! The inside of the ship looks really great.

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  7. I only hear great things about these Viking cruises.

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