Bubbles dance in your chilled champagne flute as you stand on your balcony, a slight breeze tousling your hair as the ship quietly hums past vineyards bursting with grapes ready for harvest. You spot tiny farmhouses between the breaks in the forest of leafy trees, and as the boat rounds a bend a craggy castle perched high on a hillside comes into view.
This isn’t a dream: it’s just another day sailing on one of Europe’s many famed waterways.
River cruising is quickly becoming a popular way to explore the continent, affording the opportunity to see world class cities like Vienna, Amsterdam and Budapest without worrying about any of the logistics. Viking River Cruises is consistently rated one of the best companies to cruise with, thanks to its varied itineraries, elegantly appointed ships and Swiss-trained staff. I was invited to join their Romantic Danube tour, and got to experience first-hand what all the fuss is about. Here are 19 reasons you should book a Viking river cruise.
1) The service is outstanding
Nearly everything was seamless from check-in to disembarkation a week later, with no detail overlooked. I was nervous as we made our way from the airport to the dock with dozens of other couples that getting our room assignment would see us queued up for ages, like the nightmare anyone who’s stayed at an all-inclusive resort has likely experienced. Instead, a stateroom steward grabbed our bags as the smiling concierge took a quick glance at our passports then handed over our keycards. The entire process took less than one minute!
On top of that, the staff knew our names and stateroom number within a day. I don’t know about you, but I generally forget people’s names three seconds after meeting them so I found that rather impressive. Everyone from the wait staff to the captain himself seemed to genuinely enjoy their jobs, and always greeted us with a joke or warm smile.
The crew was readily available to help with any request, whether it was running back to our room to retrieve a forgotten item as we were about to head off on a tour, or calling a taxi for us at 4 a.m. (yes we seriously did that. Oh jet lag, you are so fun). Every time we left for breakfast or went on a day tour we’d come back to a sparkling clean room, and the cabin steward even went so far as to put a bookmark in my husband’s novel that he left open!
2) The rooms are beautiful
I’ve been on my fair share on cruise ships of all shapes and sizes, and our stateroom on Viking Cruises blew them all out of the water (erm no pun intended). While it didn’t look massive at first glance, it turned out there was ample space to stow all of our stuff, and we didn’t even use some of the drawers.
The bathroom boasts an awesome, powerful shower, as well as a heated floor which is a treat in the morning.
Most of the rooms on Viking’s longships also have balconies, which are the perfect spot to relax with a glass of bubbly while soaking in the scenery. Other features include multiple lighting options, a high-definition TV loaded with shows and music, and even a lounge area for those who book a premium cabin class.
3) The itineraries are fantastic
Viking River Cruises operate all over Europe, Russia, Asia and even Egypt, so there’s no shortage of amazing destinations to explore. Ranging in length from seven to 23 days, you can cross a whole bunch of countries off your bucket list without lifting a finger.
Some itineraries will explore numerous places within one country like France, Portugal or Myanmar, while others provide a taste of multiple locales, such as the European Sojourn cruise which navigates eight incredible countries.
4) You can stay connected
Though we could all use a good digital detox, there’s no denying it’s hard to disconnect for a full week. Viking Cruises makes it easy, providing free wi-fi everywhere on the ship. If you want to leave your laptop at home, there are also a couple of desktop computers that anyone can use.
5) You won’t get seasick
I can pretty much get seasick in a bathtub, so I was interested to see how well I’d fare on a week-long cruise. My previous forays in the Caribbean and Galapagos didn’t go so well in that department, so imagine how pleased I was to not get nauseous for even a second this time around!
As our cruise was along the Danube River there were virtually no waves, and even when we went through one of the many locks along the way we felt little more than a tiny bump. Success!
6) It’s like having a personal chef
If you don’t feel like you need someone to roll yourself back to your room after each meal, you’re doing something wrong. The food is fantastic!
Breakfast each morning was a buffet including housemade yogurt parfaits, fresh pastries (including the best strudel I’ve ever had—sorry, Vienna), made to order pancakes, french toast and eggs Benedict along with an omelette station. Oh, and mimosas, naturally.
Lunch is eaten in either the restaurant or the more informal lounge area, and everyone has dinner together in the main dining room.
We chose from a three to five course meal depending on the night, with the menu drawing inspiration from whichever area we were in. Hungarian goulash, Austrian schnitzels and German bratwurst all made their way onto the menu, and we enjoyed a Bavarian theme night complete with salty pretzels, charcuterie and shots of schnapps! Even our table companions aged 70+ imbibed—so basically it was the best night ever.
7) They are hyper-organized
As a Type-A personality, I was extremely appreciative of how organized everything is. Booking flights and transfers was seamless, and they kept us apprised of changes before our trip (we ended up on Viking Jarl instead of Viking Atla—and there is literally no difference so I was surprised they even took the time to tell us).
One of my favourite things pre-trip was finding a shiny package in our mailbox. Not only did it contain our travel documents, a welcome note, luggage tags and an amenity bag, but also booklets of information answering every single question you could think of including what to expect on board and a daily itinerary. There was also a destination guide with a kilometre-by-kilometre write-up on what we’d be seeing along the way. I couldn’t wait to leave!
8) The amenities are luxe
Hotel amenities are usually pretty terrible (at least for anyone with long hair like yours truly), so I was glad to find a row of L’Occitane products neatly lined up in our bathroom. Even my husband couldn’t resist tucking a few of them into his toiletry bag to take home!
9) The guided tours are great
I’m not normally a fan of guided tours (to be frank, they can remind me of trying to herd cats), but I actually ended up taking part in the included excursion every single day of our trip. Why? Because the itinerary essentially included everything I wanted to see anyway.
Each tour included the main highlights, whether viewed while walking or driving, and were led by engaging, local guides with interesting stories. As a perk, each stateroom has two headsets which link up to your guide, so you could wander off to take a photo without missing any of the dialogue.
The daily tour is by no means mandatory, but it’s a good way to get a feel for a place then go back and explore more on your own during the free time. Some docks also aren’t right in the middle of the city, so you may want to hop in the coach simply to get into the heart of the action without having to navigate there on your own via subway or taxi.
10) It’s all-inclusive
Anyone who’s been on a Caribbean or Alaskan cruise has likely been hit with bill shock when they went to disembark. Why? Because many operators make their money not through room bookings, but all those on-board extras like massages, cocktails, gifts and tours.
READ MORE: On a boat: How to save money on your cruise
Fortunately, Viking Cruises operates on an all-inclusive format, which means guests can take advantage of a daily excursion as well as wine or beer with meals for no extra cost. There are optional add-ons such as afternoon tours or the a Silver Spirits beverage package which includes unlimited premium drinks for the duration of the trip, but there’s zero pressure to buy in to them.
11) You can bring booze on board
Further to #10, if you have a bottle of scotch to tuck into, that’s no problem either. Unlike some other companies, Viking Cruises allows passengers to bring their own alcohol onto the ship, so you don’t have to feel like a criminal smuggling it on in your suitcase.
12) You almost always know what to expect
On a Viking river cruise, the only surprises seem to be good ones (like a bottle of champagne appearing in your room). Our program director Mario was fantastic at filling us in each night about what was planned for the next day, including what time to get on the tour bus, what we’d be seeing, where to meet the boat if we didn’t plan on doing the tour, and tidbits like where the best place was for bratwurst. He even mentioned exactly how many steps there were outside a monastery we’d be visiting (54), and offered alternatives for those who weren’t comfortable navigating them.
If your afternoon nap goes long and you miss the daily briefing, there’s also a pamphlet distributed to each room outlining the next day’s itinerary, along with helpful information like the weather forecast and destination information.
13) You get to unpack
I’m notorious for hopping from place to place, but covering all that ground means a lot of packing up, finding a new hotel, checking in and unpacking, only to do it all over again in a day or two. The beauty of a cruise is you get to see a new city every single day, but only unpack once.
14) Travelling between cities is an adventure in itself
They say getting there is half the fun, and the same can be said for a Viking river cruise. Navigating waterways such as the Rhine and Seine means views of fairytale castles and towering cathedrals, while the Danube is famous for passing through Austria’s picturesque Wachau region dotted with vineyards. One part of the journey even sees the ship pass right over a highway (though you’ll have to pray it’s not on a foggy day like I experienced—hence no photos!).
15) You’re forced to make friends
Recluses might not appreciate it, but the way cruises are set up you’ll be making fast friends in no time. Ships are designed with open concept dining and lounge areas, and tables seat six to 10 people meaning you’ll likely be breaking bread with folks you don’t know. I personally think that adds to the fun of it—not only do you get to talk to someone other than your partner for a week straight, but it means there’s always someone around to take a photo of you. Sayonara, selfie stick!
16) There are outlets for everyone
Electricity converters are a pain in the you-know-what, especially for high voltage items like hair straighteners and laptops. Viking Cruises has solved this problem by installing plug-ins for both North American and European devices in each room. Brilliant!
17) They know how to give a welcome
Talk about being a good host: the staff about Viking Cruises sure know how to make you feel welcome! It seemed like every time we returned to our room there was a new treat, whether it was a bottle of sparkling wine, sugar cookies or fresh fruit.
We’d walk into the lounge, and be met with some sort of champagne cocktail or local liqueur, and one particularly freezing night in Nuremberg saw staff brave the elements to bring every single one of us a steaming mug of gluhwein to ward off the winter chill as we boarded.
Did I mention they also really seem to love singing and dancing?! See Exhibit A:
18) It’s affordable
Cruises start from $1300 per person for a week long trip, which is absolutely incredible considering how much value you get. Add to that the chance to explore notoriously expensive cities like Paris without having to spring for a $300+ hotel room, and booking a Viking River Cruise is a no-brainer.
19) They make animals out of towels
And last but not least…how adorable is this to come back to?!
YOU MIGHT ALSO ENJOY:
5 things to know before visiting a European Christmas market
INFOGRAPHIC: How to plan a trip in 5 easy steps
Globe Guide travelled along the Danube River in partnership with Viking Cruises. As always, hosts have no editorial influence over articles.
SHARE THE PINSPIRATION!