VIKING RINDA CRUISE - RHINE GETAWAY-- NOVEMBER 16-23 -2013
"Happy Crews make for Happy Passenger Journeys"
THE VIKING RIVER CRUISE --THE ULTIMATE EXPERIENCE
The Viking cruise line is building river cruising ships like they are going out of style. You don't do that unless business is good. In this current difficult, depressed global economy you have to deliver superlative value to attract customers. Especially, when you will pay thousands of dollars for a one week cruise that includes everything on the rivers of Europe. Viking delivers the ultimate travel experience. Let me qualify myself & explain why.
I am a world traveler blessed to see the world as part of my job. I have been traveling globally for over 40 years. I have over 5 million air miles, and have spent more than six complete (365 x 6) years of my life in hotels. After completing my "Rhine getaway cruise" I was left with 4 dominating thoughts.
1. An ocean cruise would have allowed me to see the horizon endlessly for days. On this river cruise I was able to see continuous changing landscapes, Vineyards, Castles, Cathedrals, Villages, Mountains etc.
2. I would have been in long lines for all Ocean cruise activities daily, because Ocean cruise ships generally hold thousands of passengers. On the Viking River Cruise line I was one of 190 passengers, never waited in line for anything and it seemed like every crew member and passenger knew my name.
3. Friendships were formed that would never have had enough time to develop on a large Ocean cruise ship. My wife and I are already planning trips/visits with other passengers (now friends) and future trips together.
4. How I am ever going to adjust to reality now that this magnificent cruise experience is over? I never worried about or planned anything once onboard- just total relaxation and fun. More on that later.
My suggestion is to run, don't walk to your nearest travel agent or Viking direct and book a Viking River cruise. You will relax, make new friends, be exhilarated & fascinated by the history and scenery on your journey and enjoy an incredible culinary experience. Every detail of pleasure has been covered by the staff. My wife and I critiqued the experience. We actually tried to find something to complain about. There was nothing. Oh sure, you could say the cabins were a bit small, but if that is your mindset -- then stay home. We were instantly struck when we boarded the ship that there was no line of passengers at the reception desk. That is because Viking allows you to board/check in from early in the morning and throughout the day. They do not depart until late in the evening. We were fortunate that our hotel was only 200 meters from the point of embarkation. I suggest if you are visiting the city of embarkation to do a dry run to your ship. Viking even has pre and post trip extensions from each end of your journey if you want them to handle everything. Be aware that you cannot get into your cabin early on the first day, because the Viking crew is cleaning the ship and the cabins for you. They take that into account and provide a wonderful lunch on board and then you can go back into the city where you depart to finish sightseeing for the day. Below, I offer comments on the key aspects of the trip, like the food, the ship, the crew etc.
THE INITIAL PLANNING - NO PRESSURE - JUST A PERFECT CUSTOMIZED CRUISE FOR YOU
When I first decided to do a river cruise I found a lot of valuable info about Viking on the web and the Viking site. Their videos were extremely helpful and gave me a feel for the experience. It truly matched what we encountered live on the cruise. The most notable part was the low/no pressure assistance I got dealing direct with Viking. I knew this was going to be a good experience from my very first call to them. My planner was Chris Burns. He was exceptional. He was knowledgeable, polite and helped me craft a custom experience due to my many personal requests, for timing, space, budget and itinerary. Never once did I feel pressured to take a specific ship or departure date. Chris was the consummate professional and happily handled all of my many demanding requests. The welcome packet that outlined the cruise and the itinerary was chock-full of interesting info and facts about the cruise, cities and stops along the way.
THE VIKING CRUISE SHIP - THE RINDA - LONGSHIP 17
Our cruise left from the port of Amsterdam. We were able to explore the ship on the first day, so we could locate the restaurants, the business center ( you don't even need to bring your computer, the ship is equipped with a couple workstations to surf and check email) and the various decks. The ship only has 3 levels for cabins and an upper open air deck equipped with a putting green and a running track for the exercise conscious. I told more than few passengers to run a lap for me. On our trip it was too cold to be out for sightseeing, so they provided blankets so you could sit on the deck and view the castles during one very scenic stretch. The reason the ships have only a few decks is so that you can cruise under the many bridges on your journey. The ship is 400 feet long and 25 feet wide.
A critical note for anyone who has a fear of seasickness. You really don't know when you are moving or docked-- it is that smooth and quiet.
THE ROUTE - AMSTERDAM - GERMANY - FRANCE - SWITZERLAND
We chose the "Rhine Getaway" for the itinerary in Germany and France. We wanted to see windmills, castles, cathedrals, quaint villages, vineyards and sample local cuisine. You get a firsthand experience of seeing how the Dutch live in the Windmills and what Castle life was like in the past few centuries as well as the toll that WW 2 took on Europe. There is a constant changing of the scenery, something you don't get on an ocean cruise. One part of the journey ventures through locks. It is an unforgettable experience to see and feel the ship lower and raise almost 30 feet. However, the locks generally occur at night, so take note. The highlight of the trip scenically was the 35 mile stretch on the Rhine in Germany where you could view the many Castles from the upper deck. Note- If you are a smoker here is a spot to enjoy a cigar while cruising and viewing on the top deck. Lounge chairs were plentiful.
THE CREW - DEDICATED TO SPOILING YOU
I don't know where to begin with the crew. Everyone was at their best every minute of the journey. I asked many of the crew what they think about working for Viking ( because I had a feeling these were very content employees). Viking knows how to treat a crew. I have a saying; "Happy employees make happy passengers". Every crew member without fail said they came from other cruise lines and that Viking was the best employer they ever worked for. That's the sign that you are in for the spoiled treatment for a week. This crew was exceptional. There are 46 of them dedicated to pleasing all your senses.
I must relay an incident that really impacted me and will show the true colors of this crew. One morning we passed on a shore excursion and stayed behind to relax. I came out of cabin to see the crew bringing on all the supplies from the dock. The first thing that caught my eye was that the captain was in front leading the charge (getting his hands dirty) to insure all the supplies were efficiently offloaded from the supply truck. Every crew member was in a line from the dock down to the supply room. They passed every box from one to another in a shuffle fashion. They were joking and singing. Viking's crew is the real deal.
On a sad note, several of the crew were from the Philippines and the Typhoon tragedy struck while we were cruising. I learned from a member of the crew that they all donated their money to send one of the members back to the Philippines who lost his parents. They are a family.
I have to single out a couple people who made the journey special. First the cut up, Rommel, our waiter in the restaurant. He is equipped with a literal "bag of tricks" to play pranks and have fun with the guests. He had everyone laughing with his jokes, pranks and musical entertainment. Next, I have to mention Sylvia from Serbia. She is there only female in the Restaurant and Bar crew. She never missed a beat from the demanding passengers who insured their glasses were always full. And she could really hold her own with the lively , mostly male crew. Robert and Bobby were the other crew assigned to the bar and lounge. These two humble gentlemen seemed to be everywhere at all times on the ship, catering to your every need and busy cleaning, organizing and stocking when not tending to guests.
THE CULNARY EXPERIENCE - 4 STAR
The sumptuous meals ( 3 provided daily + snacks) were outstanding. It all starts with their executive chef Andreas Kretschmar. Andy is a native German, who has invested 10's of thousands of Euros into his culinary training. We learned that Andy was hired one year ago and in 6 months went from Sous chef to Executive chef. A highlight of the trip for the culinary aficionados was a galley tour by the executive chef. You can't imagine how much food is cranked out of this small area by a kitchen crew of 11 people. We always had a standard meat, fish or fowl choice every night and specialty entree choices that were the chefs creations. The menu descriptions matched the wonderful flavors of the food. The table wines included in the base tour price were decent, not great. The Wines offered for additional fees, called the Silver Spirits package ( like a restaurant) were awesome. The Karl Pfaffman Dornfelder Red will be a regular at my home now. The desserts were beautifully presented and featured some creative German pastry recipes. Veuve Clicquot and Drappier were top-shelf champagne choices. There were coffee and snack stations on each side of the ship that was always stocked with Muffins and Croissants in the AM and cookies in the PM. Because this was a Rhine river focus, there were several German meals of Pork and Beef tenderloin that were outstanding. With Andy being from Germany, the local culinary nuances jumped on to the plate.
THE ENTERTAINMENT - ELEGANT AND SOMETHING FOR EVERYONE
There were contests, games and presentations in the evening for amusement and trivia knowledge. Each night there was music in the lounge led by Chris Kralev, a very talented musician and composer who displayed tremendous skill at playing music from different Genres. Our big surprise came after sharing our musical tastes with Chris. On the last night of our cruise, Christian presented my wife and I with a recording of the most beautiful composition that he created especially for us. I am not promising that for every passenger on Viking, but the beautiful memories of this trip will be relived every time we play that song.
THE STATEROOMS/CABINS - PERFECTLY APPOINTED STATE-OF THE-ART ACCOMMODATIONS
We originally booked a French balcony cabin, which meant that we had a sliding glass door that opened as part of the side of the ship. It was nice so you could smell the fresh air. However, we chose to upgrade for a small fee to a veranda cabin, so we could stand or sit outside. This also gave you a little more space in the room. Don't get me wrong, the room was small 10 X 8, but was perfectly appointed with a lot of storage and many amenities like a fridge and several drawers for your clothes -- even a desk. The bathroom was well-equipped with a small but sufficient shower. I am very tall and still had no problem moving about. There were plenty of reading lights and 2 listening devices called "whispers" so you could turn them on to hear the guides during tours. The bed had extra clearance so you could stow luggage. We had several large pieces and it all fit neatly under the bed. We were never without towels or bath amenities, the mattress was comfortable and the room was well insulated so you did not hear your neighbors. Each day the crew replenished a large bottle of water in your cabin. There were also several outlets 110 and 220 in key locations in the room. One of the most interesting things was that the ship is equipped with a camera for the lounge and the bow so you can watch the journey from your cabin or the daily events briefing if you wanted to rest. This was all broadcast on large flat screen TV in your cabin. There were plenty of entertainment choices and you could connect your IPOD to play music through the system. Every day they delivered the events of the day like a newsletter to your room, so you could plan for the included or optional activities. We briefly saw the mini-suites which had a small living room for relaxing and reading. They looked great, but expect to pay the additional fees for those type of accommodations.
THE PEOPLE TOURING - A DELIGHTFUL SURPRISE OF WARM GENEROUS TOURISTS
On this Viking cruise I would guess the average age to be around 60-65. This is not a youngsters booze cruise. Viking is dedicated to elegance and luxury at an affordable price. This cruise was for the history buff, the European sightseer, people celebrating special anniversaries and of course, people who really enjoy fine food and great wine. After all, you are traveling through the heart of the German wine country and the side tours included tasting and dinners out. We met several new friends and enjoyed many wonderful nights with them at dinner and in the lounge sipping our favorite beverages. There was no crazy behavior, just sophisticated folks looking for a good time, fine dining and some really engaging conversations. Viking even sponsored one evening where people who cruised multiple times were invited to get together and share memories of past trips and inspire each other to choose new Viking itineraries. Viking is launching several new ships this year, so they can accommodate the demand as the word of their unique experience travels. And it will travel fast. People who experienced Viking for the first time are affectionately referred to as "VV's". Viking Virgins.
THE VIKING VALUE - EXCEPTIONAL - CAN'T BE BEAT
We are all value conscious consumers in this world of travel options and itineraries. As a well-versed and demanding travel consumer I say that Viking delivers the best travel experience for the money. I have calculated a quick accounting of a one week vacation, that would be comparable to a Viking vacation. Just add up one week at an upscale hotel, 3 quality meals a day, evening Cocktails, Airfare and tours. It will quickly add up to several thousand dollars. Now, add up all the time it took you to plan every detail. This does not take into account that Viking does it all for you for one price. I did not have to think or plan a thing and I am seeing exotic scenery and having daily tours, sometimes even multiple tours in one day. I did not have to hunt for a restaurant. The only stress I had for one week was what entree am I going to choose at my next meal.
We made new friends, visited new places, ate scrumptious food, and had someone plan our every move. You can't really put a price on that ( travel agent assistance). Viking has us hooked for life. Check them out at www.viking rivercruises.com.