Viking offers a variety of itineraries on Europe's rivers -- but what doesn't change much are the cruise ships themselves. Known as "Longships," Viking's fleet of river cruise ships on most rivers all carry 190 passengers, with a similar Scandinavian decor and sensibility, as well as inclusions and programming.
Let's dive into what you'll find on a Viking river cruise ship.
Having a fleet of identical ships is not unusual in river cruising, which is why it's more important to choose a line that fits your needs, rather a specific vessel, when you're planning your trip. There are several reasons for this. First, river cruise ships are restricted in size by the locks and canals systems along Europe's waterways. Viking simply can't make a larger river cruise ship than what they already have. It won't fit through the lock.
Second, the river cruise lines like to offer a consistent experience when you sail, whether you're on the Rhine River in Germany and the Netherlands, or the Danube River in Austria and Hungary. That's because when water levels are either too high or too low for ships to sail on a particular river, Viking (and other lines) can move passengers from one vessel to another easily.
There are some exceptions to this in Viking's fleet, primarily on Portugal's Douro River, Germany's Elbe River and the Seine River in France. On those rivers, Viking uses smaller ships to navigate locks and have access to buzzing city centers, like Paris. While these "baby Longships," as the company calls them, may be smaller, they have similar amenities, restaurants and cabin choices. The ships on the Douro even have a pool.
Viking's Longships were considered pioneers when they were built. By building modern European river ships at scale, Viking has been credited with revitalizing river cruising due to their deck plans, cabins and dining spaces.
The layout of Viking river cruise ships’ leverages modern Scandinavian design to create open and airy spaces, perfect for kicking back and watching the river float by. Nothing is too over the top, and casual clothes are the norm during the day, with a minimal dress code required at night.
Viking river cruise ship layouts center on the glass-enclosed Aquavit Terrace. Part dining area, part sunny hangout, the Aquavit Terrace sits at the front of the ship and provides a perfect vantage point for scenic sailing.
When the weather's nice, the sundeck on Viking Longships is also a central part of their layout. The line puts out loungers, some in the sun and some under cover, so you can enjoy drinks and river views. The sundeck also has an herb garden, a shuffleboard area and two putting greens (although these are very rarely used).
An elevator runs between the ship's Main Deck and upper deck only; passengers with mobility issues should avoid cabins on the lower deck and may miss out on activities up on the Sun Deck.
Having a step-out balcony on a European river ship is not a given. Viking has designed its Longships so there are 39 cabins with full step-out balconies, where you can sit with your coffee in the morning and enjoy watching the river. Another 22 cabins have the more traditional French balconies, where you can open the doors for fresh air, but can't actually go outside. The balcony cabins are 205 square feet, while the French balcony cabins are significantly smaller at 135 square feet.
Standard staterooms on the lower deck have a fixed window. These 25 rooms, coming in at 150 square feet, are often called "aquarium class" because the windows are at the same level of the river outside. While you don't get the benefit of fresh air, people often choose these cabins for their lower price point and the fact that you often don't spend all that much time in your room on a typical river cruise.
What really makes Viking Longships stand out, however, are the suites onboard. Viking is one of the few river cruise lines that offer a true two-room suite on their river ships. The ships have seven 275-square foot Veranda Suites, which are all located on the upper deck and have a separate sleeping and living area.
But the stars of the ships are the two Explorer Suites, both located on the upper deck at the back of the ship. These cabins come in at 445 square feet -- some of the largest on the rivers -- and not only have a separate bedroom and living areas, but a wraparound balcony.
Perks for passengers staying in the Explorer Suites include priority embarkation, private arrival and departure transfers, a welcome bottle of Champagne, mini-bar replenished daily, complimentary Silver Spirits beverage package, in-room breakfast service and free laundry.
While it's not what we'd consider a "foodie" experience and doesn't have as much regional focus as you might expect, Viking's river ships have menus that appeal to a wide range of palates. You'll always be able to find staples such as prime rib, chicken and salmon.
All dining on Viking river cruise ships is free, with open seating and no reservations required. Vegetarian options are available at every meal and marked on the menu; chefs can also accommodate gluten-free diets and other allergies (passengers are encouraged to note restrictions online with My Viking Journey before the trip).
The main dining venue onboard is called, simply, The Restaurant. It's open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, with tables for six and eight. Breakfast and lunch are buffets that are served during set times, although you can also order cooked-to-order items off the menu.
Dinner is four courses, and usually begins at 7:30 p.m. Most diners arrive for dinner at the same time; it's not really a come-as-you-wish experience (if you'd like to eat at your own pace, check out the Aquavit Terrace). A typical meal has three appetizer choices and a soup. Six entree choices -- three specials and three "always available" dishes -- are offered. Desserts also provide choice, with a cheese plate available nightly.
On Viking river cruises, wines are included at lunch and dinner and are poured liberally. This is one area where the line strives to provide regional offerings.
For a more casual option, the Aquavit Terrace on the upper deck has light buffet breakfasts, lunches and dinners. It's a particularly charming place to eat when the weather is nice and the glass walls come down, opening the entire area up to al fresco dining. Tables here are smaller, so if you're traveling with a friend or partner, you don't have to sit at a table with strangers. You can also come and go a bit more freely here, during serving hours. It's a nice choice if you've had a long day touring and only need a small nosh.
Coffee stations and some snacks are usually available during the day. Room service is limited -- it's breakfast only and only available to passengers in the Explorer Suites.
Viking has many inclusions on their river cruises, although not everything. On your trip, you'll get at least one shore excursion per port included in the fare, as well as bottled water, all meals plus wine and beer at lunch and dinner, as well as onboard programming and entertainment. Wi-Fi is also included.
You'll have to pay for gratuities, as well as transfers if you did not book your flight through Viking. Bring or exchange small amounts of local currency to tip local guides and bus drivers.