After over 20 plus cruises on ships with 350 to 4,800 passengers, we thought we would try river cruising. Some concerns were the size of the ship and the fewer number of passengers. Could we find places on the ship to relax without a crowd? Would only one meal time be ok? Would our cabin be big enough? Would we fit in with our fellow passengers? Is a small crew going to be ok or will service suffer?
When our credentials arrived, we should have known what our trip would be like. There were simple to read and easy to carry documents, outlining every moment of our trip and FAQ's that were very helpful. Even the case the documents arrived in could be used for the cruise.
We arrived in Amsterdam for a two night stay and were met by Viking Representatives who put us in a cab and we went straight to our hotel. We met our next Viking Rep in the hotel and were given information about the hotel, dining, our Amsterdam Tour and suggestions for what we might do on our own. There was always someone available to answer any questions.
We were told we would be taken to the Viking Sun by bus around 3 on Sunday. We used the morning to see more of Amsterdam and got back to the hotel around noon, thinking we would have to wait in the lobby for our ride. Our Viking Rep asked if we wanted to leave early and the next thing we knew we were on the Viking Sun having lunch and enjoying meeting the crew.
We were given our room keys at 3:00 and found a very comfortable,well appointed spotless room. Not huge, not small, just right.
I won't go into each port we went to, only to say they were wonderful. The tours were great, on time, great guides, comfortable coaches and enough free time to enjoy each on our own.
As to finding spaces for alone time on the ship, not a problem. Plenty of places to quietly relax and enjoy a cup of coffee or a class of wine. We never felt crowded.
We always dine early or use flexible dining when we cruise. We wondered how everyone dining at once would be. It was great, tours came back in time to relax a little, have a cocktail and enjoy the Cruise Director's talk about what to expect the next day. Everyone walked to the dining room and sat down. We tried to meet new people every night and it worked out very well. The service and food were excellent. Don't expect to get stuffed, but do expect to enjoy quality, well prepared, well presented meals.
Yes, most passengers were our age, 50-80. Most were well traveled and fun to talk with and share stories with. The night life on the ship involves an after dinner drink, listening to the piano and then off to bed to get some sleep for the next day. You need it!
I have worked in the service industry my whole career and one of the things I have always felt is that co-workers who care about each other, care about the customer. The crew on the Viking Sun were wonderful. Attentive, fun, caring and professional, from the Captain on down, we enjoyed each of them. They knew how to be available and yet also knew how to give you your space. They were wonderful people.
I really am writing this for those who are ocean cruisers who are considering a river cruise. If you go on a cruise ship to party like rock stars, shop in the boutiques, play in the casino and enjoy the nightly shows and nightclubs, keep on enjoying those cruises. But, if you want to see what it's like to have an adventure and learn things you never knew, get on the river.
Two other points, we were encouraged to buy local wines, cheeses, etc. and bring them back on board to enjoy. No corkage fees, no holding it until you get back home. This added to the experience as we shared these local treasures with each other and new friends. Second point. Your fee will be higher than on a cruise ship. But, you will never get nickeled and dimed after you pay. Your fee includes your room, board, tours, wine and beer and meals and great hospitality. There are optional tours which we did make use of, but it was great not to have some big bill waiting for us at the end of the trip.
Yes, there is one thing that needs to be fixed, but I believe it will only be fixed with a technological breakthrough. Internet on ships stinks, no matter what ship you are on. Ours was free and spotty. When we were in port, it was fine.
Thinking of a river cruise? Do it! We will again.