Viking Odin: Try Me a River
Why a river cruise in Europe should be on every traveler’s list.
By Jodi Ornstein
My parents were in a conundrum. After the first decade of their retirement years had taken them on cruises around the world — from the Caribbean to Alaska, Europe to Asia, the British Isles to South America — they were stuck and sought my advice.
“We don’t know where to cruise next,” whined my mom. “We’ve done everything already.” Cue the violins.
“Why don’t you do a Europe river cruise?” I suggested strongly. But as soon as I put it out there, they expressed immediate hesitation and concerns, which I suppose is normal coming from a couple who is used to sailing with major cruise lines aboard mostly megaships. I admitted that a river ship is vastly different than an ocean-going ship. River cruising, however, has a list of advantages.
So as I made my way to Amsterdam to board Viking River Cruises’ new Viking Odin (one of six new Longships debuting in 2012, with six more slated to come out in 2013), I not only set out to see for myself what Europe river cruising was about, I also set out to squash their concerns and to show them why river cruising has become one of the most popular trends in cruising today. Essentially, I set out to prove my parents wrong.
Insert Jewish Brooklyn accent here:
“We’re so sick of museums and churches.”
“So am I. What’s your point?”
If you’re someone who’s into discovering Europe’s history by touring its magnificent museums and churches, you’ll have a treasure trove to choose from in the cities along Europe’s many rivers. From the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam to the Hermitage Museums in St. Petersburg, there’s no denying that you can spend a good amount of your time at world-famous museums — if you choose to.
But, if you’re like me — and my parents apparently — and prefer other types of excursions, there’s a bevy of other ways to delve into a country’s character.
You can’t compare the beauty of Holland’s countryside, from its windmills and cheese farms to its quaint fishing villages of Volendam, Edam, and Marken. And words can’t describe the sheer beauty of Budapest’s Castle District. From glassblowing demonstrations in Germany to wine tours in Burgundy, from a musical performance in Vienna to touring the home and gardens of Monet in Giverny, oh, mom and dad, the places you’ll go (that the big ships simply can’t).
“We’re used to cruising in style.”
“And style you shall find.”
Designed by legendary naval architects Yran & Storbraaten, the same design team behind Seabourn’s elegant yachts, Viking’s Longships boast state-of-the-art engineering and luxurious design elements around every turn.
The popular Aquavit Terrace offers both indoor and outdoor spaces at the bow of the ship that offer stunning viewing areas from which to watch the scenery drift by. Up top on the Sun Deck you’ll find solar panels, an oversized chess game, an organic herb garden, and plenty of seating to gather when the weather allows. The ship features a small souvenir shop, library, and Internet café area, but the best part of all is the free shipwide Wi-Fi service.
Staterooms boast the most modern of amenities, from comfy marshmallow-y beds, a large flat-screen TV, L’Occitane bath products, and — my favorite part — heated bathroom floors. But what makes the Longships’ staterooms stand out are their balconies. Unique to river cruising, each stateroom features either a French balcony or a full-size balcony, which was the result of the distinctive design feature that moved the corridor one meter to the side, which allowed for extra space to accommodate the full balconies. Audiovox machines are available in the staterooms for guests to take with them on shore excursions in order to make hearing the tour guide easier.
When it comes time to dine, the Viking Restaurant offers one open seating that features seasonal specialties, regional dishes, and fine wine to accompany the gourmet selections, many of which feature traditional Nordic cuisine that includes lots of fresh fish. Casual alfresco dining is also available at the Aquavit Terrace.
“There are no shows. What will we do at night?”
“For starters, you’ll chill out for once.”
While there’s no rising of curtains, parades down the center of the ship, or the loud cha-ching of casino slot machines, evenings aboard Viking’s Longships bring relaxing with friends to the background music of a live pianist, a host of onboard guest speakers, and other occasional local entertainment.
During my sailing, for example, we attended a lecture by world-renowned author and travel expert Nathaniel Lande, coauthor of National Geographic’s The 10 Best of Everything, and another lecture by Dr. Lisa Randall, godmother of Viking Idun and professor of physics at Harvard University, who spoke about the topic of her most recent book, Knocking on Heaven’s Door: How Physics and Scientific Thinking Illuminate the Universe and the Modern World.
No matter what your passion, guests and crewmembers alike will tell you that quiet evenings aboard a river cruise bring camaraderie. With only 190 passengers on board, the intimacy is instant, and evenings are a time when guests gather to share experiences of their day and to talk about what they look forward to the next.
“Wa wa wa whaaaat? There’s no spa?”
“No, but there’s even better.”
While there’s no onboard spa or fitness center, Viking River Cruises offers free concierge service that is designed to make sure that each guest has the most wonderful, tailored experience possible in the cities the ships visit. In other words, instead of booking an onboard spa treatment while missing the amazing city outside your window, the concierge can perhaps arrange a treatment at the Four Seasons Spa in Budapest.
Other examples of Viking’s concierge services include helping arrange dinner reservations and private tours in port, a visit to see the famous Lipizzaner Stallions in Vienna, or visits to the Gellért Thermal Baths and the Szechenyi Bath in Budapest.
“During my visit to the Gellért Thermal Baths in Budapest, I spent a fabulous day soaking in the various pools outside in the garden and inside among the gorgeous baroque architecture,” said Sara Conley, manager of marketing and social media for Viking River Cruises. “The place was full of locals, old and young. It was relaxing and felt adventurous at the same time — and totally immersive. I just don’t think any spa on a river cruise vessel could ever top it.”
The line is quick to point out that it’s the destinations that are the emphasis of a river cruise itinerary. The ships certainly provide a modern, luxurious, and comfortable way to travel, but they are the transportation. The destinations are what make the cruise.
There are no long lines when it comes time to embark or disembark in port. There are no fold-out maps required to make your way around the ship. The best way I can describe the experience is that it’s cruising simplified. And it’s simply something every cruiser should try.
Did You Know?
Viking River Cruises is proud of its Norse heritage. Its six Longships that debut this year are named for Viking gods and heroes:
- Viking Odin: God of Wisdom, the Father of the Viking Gods
- Viking Freya: Goddess of Love, Beauty, and Fertility
- Viking Njord: God of Wind
- Viking Aegir: God of the Sea
- Viking Idun: Goddess of Spring, Rejuvenation, and Eternal Youth
- Viking Embla: The first woman to be created, the mother of the human race