A few years ago, when Viking River Cruises decided to create an all-new European river cruising itinerary in the Bordeaux region of southwest France, picking the destination was the easy part.
For starters, Bordeaux is a world winemaking hub. With nearly 60 different appellations grown in the thousands of acres of vineyards sprawled about the region, Bordeaux vineyards produce everything from the classic red Bordeaux to the sweet, white Sauternes. And they do so in great abundance, turning out almost a billion bottles a year. Bordeaux also is a region rich in culinary tradition, though, and for food and wine enthusiasts -- some of European river cruising's best customers -- odds are good that a combination of top-class French cuisine and wine will prove irresistible.
The city of Bordeaux is no small draw, either. Recognized by UNESCO for its heritage and architecture, the ancient city and its lovely buildings sit primly on the banks of the Garonne River. With a nearby airport and easy access for river cruise ships wanting to visit the Dordogne River and the Gironde Estuary, Bordeaux is an obvious choice as a river cruise destination. Couple that with the quaintness of the scenic vineyards, chateaux and medieval villages, and it's easy to see why this destination is growing. (CroisiEurope has had ships in place here since 2011, Uniworld also began operations in Bordeaux in 2014, and Scenic and Avalon will join the fray in 2015).
But what about the nuts and bolts of a full itinerary? How would a cruise line develop the final experience it offers its customers, and how many man-hours does the job require?
To answer these questions, Cruise Critic's Jamey Bergman accompanied Viking Rivers' itinerary development team on a mission to finalize the Bordeaux itinerary. The team, a mix of executives from Viking's Swiss operations base and its Los Angeles headquarters, was charged with the task of winnowing the best sights to showcase the region over the course of a seven-night cruise.
As we marched through ripening fields of grapes on a not-so-dry run for a potential winery tour at Chateau Siaurac and meandered down French country lanes to Perigord to search for truffles, it became clear the job of creating a relaxing river cruise itinerary is actually quite rigorous. It's a job with plenty of perks, to be sure, but when the expectations of a company and its clientele are on your shoulders, the stakes are high.
Get the full, behind-the scenes tour in our slideshow.
--by Jamey Bergman, Production & U.K. River Section Editor