From the time we contacted Viking for information on the cruise we chose, we received excellent service and expert information. Before we ever boarded the plane, we had the answers to all the questions that were important to us: transfer from airport to the pre-trip extension to Brussels, transfer from Brussels to the ship in Antwerp, laundry on the ship, beverage packages, use of credit cards, local currency, and many other pieces of essential information I have now forgotten. On the date we made our way to our local airport, I felt confident that all would go smoothly. I was correct, and the attention to detail that makes for smooth travel followed us all the way back to our local airport twenty-one days later.
A Viking Representative met us with a Viking sign in the Brussels airport and took us to the beautiful Conrad Brussels hotel in a lovely part of the city. The accommodations were excellent, the included breakfasts were delicious, and convenient city location was close to wonderful restaurants and efficient public transportation.
A Viking Representative maintains a desk in the hotel to give Viking guests all the information needed to make their Brussels trip as structured or as independent as guests wish. Guests may decide to take the included guided tour of the city, or they may choose to explore on their own. If they choose to explore independently, the Viking Representative will provide guests with all possible information they will need to make their trip enjoyable.
At the end of the pre-extension, a bus picks up the guests from the hotel in Brussels and takes them to Antwerp to board the Viking Sun for the next fifteen days on the Treasures of the Rhine cruise.
The Viking Staff maintains that level of commitment throughout the trip on the ship and continues to the airport at the end or to the post-extension in Lucerne. We chose the Lucerne post-extension and experienced the same level of service that we had on the pre-extension and the ship. We and our bags were handled carefully by Viking until we returned to our home airport.
For some travelers, this level of attention may not be their key to an enjoyable vacation. For my husband and me, it was perfect. We did not have to worry with all the planning and travel that we do in our everyday lives and our careers. We could simply relax and let someone else handle the details in an organized and efficient way. We relaxed, and Viking handled the details beautifully. It was simply the best, most-relaxing, and culturally informative trip we have ever taken. I cannot recommend it too highly to others who are considering a river cruise.
The ship is not anything like an ocean liner. It accommodates close to 200 people with rooms that are roomy with plenty of storage. The beds are built high to allow storage of luggage. We took four large suitcases and had no problem storing them under our bed. We had a room with a large window that we often opened to feel the river breezes or take photos of interesting sights we passed. Other cabins have doors and French balconies, and a few on the lowest level have small windows.
The desk on the main level is manned twenty-four hours, and the staff is prepared to answer any questions and take care of any guest needs. The staff is very knowledgeable and receptive to all requests. We had very few questions, but they were always very helpful and pleasant.
The lounge on the upper level is just lovely and offers a wonderful place for guests to sit on those occasions when they are not sightseeing or enjoying the comforts of their cabins. The bartender on the Viking Sun, Roman, assisted by Svetlena, seem to know exactly what guests want to order and serves them with such friendliness. Dimo, a most talented musician, plays the piano for the guests every afternoon and evening and even stops to engage them in conversation about their travels during the day.
Dining on the Viking Sun is such a delightful experience. Although there is not the selection of food offered on a cruise ship, the two or three entrees available each day are superb. Delightful red and white table wines are served at dinner with no limit. Wine packages and soft drink are also available for those who wish to purchase them. I purchased the wine package, and my husband purchased the soft drink package. We were completely satisfied.
Akos, Vicktor, and Slavo ensure that all requests are filled, and they learn very quickly whether guests like coffee, tea, prefer a glass of wine, etc. The chef, Andreas, not only serves delightful local dishes for guests, he previews his selections in the lounge before dinner nightly. He is very visible throughout the trip, and guests come to know him as a person and not an anonymous chef back in the kitchen.
Breakfasts are buffet. Guests who wish may order special breakfasts, but I cannot imagine why one would. The buffets are almost overwhelming and quite good. On our trip, I especially fell in love with the dark German bread and more than once thought of smuggling a loaf out and bringing it home. My values caught up with me, and I did not steal it; however, I must confess that I thought about it. It was so good.
Lunches are served in the dining room, and guests may order from the menu as well as choose from a salad and sandwich buffet. Lunch is also served in the lounge above, and many people prefer that menu. I did not eat in the lounge and cannot comment on it. Others really seemed to enjoy it.
Pastries, juice, and coffee are available in the lounge for the early risers, and cookies are available all afternoon. The coffee machine and ice water and tea are also in the lounge for guests to enjoy whenever they wish.
Trips ashore are planned with the precision of a military mission with nothing left to chance. Each night, the program director Lucia delivers the “Daily Briefing” to interested guests in the lounge the planned events for the following day. For those who do not wish to attend such briefings, information is printed out in detail daily for the guests with this same information. The difference is the expert way in which Lucia describes the area to be visited, explains its historical and cultural significance in the area, and interesting sites one might like to see on his/her own.
Before guests leave for the daily trips, they hand in room keys to the desk attendant which means the captain and crew are never left wondering whether or not guests have returned from their trips ashore. They also pick up as many bottles of free water they wish to take with them on their journeys. On guests’ return to the ship, they pick up their room keys and enjoy the tea, juice, and ice water waiting for them at the boarding entrance. This is in addition to the aforementioned cookies and drinks in the lounge.
The local guides are almost 100 percent excellent at every stop. For guests who know nothing about the history except what Lucia has told them the night before, it is a college class in area history and culture in a few hours. For guests who are well-traveled and very knowledgeable about history, the guide adds to the guests’ wealth of knowledge with local bits of previously unknown information.
On occasion, Viking will invite entertainers aboard to play local music or teach a lesson of some cultural note in the area. Many guests really enjoy this added feature to a Viking Cruise.
Viking’s relationship with guests
My husband and I do not expect much handholding and do not need to be catered to in order to have a great trip. We do not require the fantastic treatment offered on a Viking cruise. Yet, that is exactly what we received. Every crew member meets the guests, greets the guests, and seems to be happy to help the guests. The company seems to value not only every guest but the crew members as well. I was especially impressed that we were allowed to meet everyone, especially the men who secured our boat to the shore each time we landed. I liked to see the crew standing right beside the captain when we concluded our tour. For, in fact, there is no cruise without the help of every one of the crew members. Thank you, Viking.
The only negative comment about Viking, the Viking Sun, and the Treasures of the Rhine is the Internet problem. In the global economy of 2011, the poor Internet access on this trip is unacceptable. The company must immediately take steps to make access more available and consistent or lose the new generation of river travelers who must stay connected to the world through the Internet. Without this adjustment, all of the aforementioned plusses of the trip will not override this one major flaw.