Viking River Cruises: A Millennial's Perspective
This post was originally published on by Anna en Route on September 29, 2017.
After a summer packed tight with work and travel, I'm finally back at school. My schedule is finally getting into a rhythm, and I have time to get back to what I have been neglecting for months now - writing. After such a summer, I certainly have a lot to say.
Back in January, right as I was about to head back to school for my spring semester, my mom found a promotion from Viking River Cruises for deals on some of their week-long summer cruises. I had seen advertisements for Viking on PBS, usually of a riverboat gliding past gorgeous castles and vineyards somewhere in Europe. Past that I didn't really know how a Viking Cruise operated, but it was something I was definitely interested in trying out. I'm open to pretty much any opportunity to see the world.
We looked through the booklet and chose Viking's "Rhine Getaway" because 1) it seemed interesting to both of us and 2) it was the most affordable option of them all. Within just a couple of days, the trip was booked, and all that was left to do was wait!
Like I mentioned before, I had very few preconceived ideas about what the trip would be like beforehand. (Spoiler Alert: it ended up being really great!) Speaking as a person under the age of 50, though, there were definitely some things that I wasn't expecting onboard, and I'll go into better detail in a bit about that. I'm not a professional blogger - that is - no one is paying me to write this review. These are just my honest thoughts about mine and my mom's time on our Viking River Cruise!
This is more of a practical review of the Viking experience coming from my perspective as a young person on a boat full of retirees. I plan on posting even more pictures of all the wonderful cities we visited in later updates!
Booking and Prep
We'll start here since it's the very first step in the whole process. The booking was pretty simple. We called Viking, gave them the necessary information, and they took care of pretty much everything. We knew that we wanted to spend a little extra time in Basel and Amsterdam, the two endpoints of the cruise, and the person booking our flights took that into consideration. They didn't actually book the flights until about four months out, which is not as close to the trip as Mom and I would usually book, but it worked out just as well. We were put on Delta, got to choose our own seats, and it was a very pleasant flight. Plus, when you book flights through Viking, they do it for a decent flat rate.
In the months leading up to the trip, we were also able to reserve excursions through Viking's online program called My Viking Journey. For each day of the journey, it laid out what stop(s) we would be making, gave a bit of history on the area, and provided options for the included and non-included activities. We received occasional emails from Viking with bits of information, such as German phrases or local foods that we may get to try. I loved all of this pre-information because it kept me looking forward to the trip!!
A couple of days before we left, which was in late July, we called Viking to ask which port in Basel they would be docked at. The docking location is figured out only a couple of days before the boat arrives in the city, sometimes the day of, and we wouldn't have an easy way to contact them once we were abroad. So after our splendid time in Basel, the morning of embarkation came. We took an Uber to the docking location (per the woman on the phone a few days before), and there wasn't a boat in sight. Luckily, we had plenty of time. We pulled out some of our paper documents that Viking had sent us, found the number for the ship, used our precious international calling minutes to contact them, and found out they were actually at another port. We got another Uber to that port, but from that moment on the entire boarding process was wonderfully smooth. The crew took our bags straight to our room, we ate a delicious lunch, and were able to settle in very quickly.
For those who had Viking transfer from the airport to the ship, there was no problem at all. We only had issues since we did the first couple days in Basel entirely on our own.
One of the best things about the entire Viking experience was the staff. With only 200 passengers on board the ship, every person working on board is able to be extremely personable. On our first night, the program director, Diana, told us all that the staff wants to make sure that you have an enjoyable time. Sure, anyone would say that to make you want to book another cruise, but after a week on board, it becomes so true. The staff members come from all over the world. They are all so friendly, and they try to get to know you during the trip.
Our stewardess for the week, Anca, who was from Romania, would always call us by name in the hall and greet us with a smile. One waiter that we had for pretty much every meal on board, Nicky, knew what we wanted to drink as soon as we sat down. I understand that their job is to make guests feel welcome, but I honestly believed that the staff enjoyed their work. (Whether or not that's true, I don't know, but I felt like they cared, and it made things all the more enjoyable.)
Our Fellow Passengers
Here's where the title of this post comes more into play. Out of the 200 passengers on board, all of whom you are in constant interaction with, mainly during shipboard activities and meals, I would guess that about 85 percent were above the age of 50. Almost 95 percent were older than 40. The remaining 5 percent were around my age.
As a result of these demographics, Viking orients their tours and programs towards this older age group. Onboard, there's trivia nights and lectures on the local culture. Off-board, the walking tours are heavily guided and gently paced.
I quickly felt out of place on board being one of the few "young people." That's not to say that the other passengers were not kind. Most people I spoke to asked me about what I was studying in school and what I was doing after I got my degree. Past that conversation, it was a bit difficult to relate to people. Eventually, though, I'd find some common ground. There was one group of people from Oklahoma that we spent several evenings on board with. We got along great with them and enjoyed getting to know about each others' lives. We even formed a trivia team one night and won (picture below). That's the great thing about the cruise - it "forces" you to meet people from around the world that you would not have met otherwise.
Side note: Being one of the youngest people on the cruise has another advantage. When we went out on guided tours, I usually kept to the back of the group, taking lots of pictures, and I could easily catch back up to the group when I needed to. (The tour guide speaks over a bluetooth audio system, and everyone can hear through their earbuds, so I never missed a thing.)
The Food: As a 19 year-old college student, fine dining and gourmet food are not at the top of my list of "needs." My diet consists of a lot of Chick-fil-a and plenty of PB&J sandwiches. Every dinner on the cruise is a three-course meal. It was a little daunting at first. I usually didn't even know what I was ordering because everything had such a fancy name and description. Some nights, I really just wanted a chicken sandwich and french fries, but the closest thing on the menu was smoked halibut and caviar. I will not complain, though, because it was very good food. I simply had to step out of my comfort zone. I enjoyed trying new things each night, and I had nothing but positive comments for nearly every meal on board (especially dessert). If you're into fine dining, a Viking cruise is certainly the place for you. You will not be disappointed!
The Experience: The entire dining experience is much like any other cruise line. You go to the dining room at a certain time and get seated, usually with other people. You are waited on in a very formal style. It's especially great if you're sailing at the time because the view on either side of the dining room is constantly changing. It's a very elegant setting, and I felt very pampered every time we went to eat on board. Because it was such a formal dining setting, though, dinner took a very long time. One night, we were in the dining room for two whole hours. I enjoy a nice meal, and I didn't want to rush anyone, but I also wanted time to walk into the city while it was still light out.
Viking gives you the option of eating in the dining room, where you have access to the evening's chef specialties, or you can dine on the Aquavit Terrace, for a lighter, more casual meal. One night when we decided we didn't want to spend two hours on dinner, we tried out the terrace. We were the only people out there, which was nice, but there were much fewer items to choose from to eat.
My favorite part of dining on the cruise, I will say, was the breakfast each morning. They had everything you could imagine: an omelet bar, scrambled eggs (which were the best scrambled eggs I've ever tasted in my life), yogurt with fruit toppings, cereal, pastries, sausage, and just so much more. The food was self-served, but beverage service was waited upon. I had hot tea and orange juice every morning with my breakfast. It was the perfect start to the day.
This is where I have a few mixed feelings. When labeling myself as a traveler, I fall somewhere in between a "tourist" and what a lot of bloggers would call a "real traveler." Viking is definitely a touristy experience, but it's worth it for the convenience of it all. Once you step on the boat, you don't have to touch your bags again until disembarkation day. Every morning, you wake up in a new city, and you didn't have to do anything at all to get there. It saves on travel time you would have spent driving or taking a train from city to city, and there's no packing and repacking each time you get on the move again. That being said, because you're limited to going only where the cruise takes you, you sometimes end up in high-tourist areas.
On our excursion the first full day in Germany, we drove through the Black Forest region, which was gorgeous, but then we were let out at this little visitor's center where they had clock-making and cake-baking demonstrations. The only locals there were the people working. Everyone else was a tourist (mainly American). Another excursion, to the town of Colmar in France, was kind of like this. While Colmar is an actual town, and a very pretty one at that, it is a tourist hub, and the locals know that. The day we went, it was crowded and hot and everywhere you looked, there was another tour group following a guide.
Those were the only two destinations that I specifically did not like. I absolutely loved the rest of the ports, and if we had been on our own, we probably would not have gotten to them. Rüdesheim, Germany was my favorite place. It's a quaint little town in the Rhine Valley with unique German restaurants and shops. We took a cable car ride up to the top of the vineyards and got a great view of the landscape.
To put it simply, if you want to avoid touristy stops on a Viking Cruise, don't take the included excursions. Stay where you're docked, and explore on your own. While you may not get to see absolutely everything, you will have a more authentic experience!!
Is It Worth the Price?
Viking Cruises are not cheap. There's no way around that fact, but there are definitely ways to avoid paying the listed book price of the trip. Once you find ways to cut the price a little, YES. It is definitely worth it. The food, the amenities, the convenience, the staff, the locations - it all makes it worth the price tag!
First off, sign up to receive brochures and booklets from Viking. They run so many promotions throughout the year, so you are bound to stumble upon one that works for you. The catch is that you have to act quickly. We received a booklet in the mail around mid-January saying that certain cruises were "buy-one-get-one" (essentially, half off) for the rest of the month. So, no, we didn't have a lot of time to decide, but we ended up paying half of the listed price.
Second, find a referral. If you know someone who's gone on a Viking cruise at any point in the past, you can give tell your Viking agent that they referred you, and you'll get about $100 off your trip (and so will your friend on their next cruise).
Third, use those credit card points! This is pretty self-explanatory. Airfare is not included in the listed price of the cruise, but by putting the majority of the purchases you make everyday on a rewards card, you can pretty much cover this expense.
Finally, go with the most basic room. The least expensive rooms on board are still extremely nice. Plus, you won't be spending much time there anyway!
My Overall Impression
If you don't read anything else in this post, read this:
If you have the money and the time to spend and the opportunity to go, take a Viking Cruise. Not only is it a great escape from your everyday life - you will be exploring some of the most beautiful cities in the world and immersing yourself in cultures much different from your own.
If you're a 20-something, yes, you will be the minority on a Viking Cruise. Young or old, though, everyone will gain from an experience as great as this!
If you've ever even slightly considered maybe looking into taking a Viking Cruise, I hope this review helped you make a decision!
Also, keep in mind that Viking has dozens and dozens of different cruises all across the world, for ocean and for river. Mom and I went on just one of those cruises, and that is the cruise that this review reflects.
Any other questions or curiosities about what a Viking Cruise is really like? I'd love to answer them for you!