Viking Cruise Line is the largest river cruise line, with a fleet of 60-plus vessels. In the U.S., it has the most name recognition, thanks to extensive advertising on NPR radio and Masterpiece on PBS (where the promotions ran before the wildly popular show Downton Abbey). Although the Viking Cruise Line focuses on Europe, with cruises on the popular Rhine, Main and Danube among others, it also sails in China, Burma, Vietnam and Egypt (and will be coming to the Mississippi River in 2017).
Reflecting the heritage of Viking's Norwegian-born founder, Torstein Hagen, the line's popular "longships" are sleek, minimalist and functional, with tasteful, muted decor throughout the public rooms and cabins. Bling is definitely not a Viking thing.
Viking places the accent firmly on getting to know the destinations. The ship's included daily shore excursions (with a handful of optional for-fee excursions) and onboard enrichment programs are geared towards a deeper understanding of local history and culture.
Deciding where and what to eat is simple as vessels have one main restaurant, where people are seated at one set time.
The innovative Aquavit Terrace at the front of the longships — achieved by the vessels being designed with a snub-nosed rather than a pointed prow — is an open-air lounge area that can also be used for lunch and dinner.
In addition to regular dishes, menus showcase regional food and wine, such as local cheeses and gin in the Netherlands and specialty sausages and beer in Germany. Passengers can also expect fun and informative onboard food tastings and cooking demonstrations.
Wine, beer and soft drinks at lunch and dinner are included in the fare.
Unlike ocean cruise ships, where the amount of booze you can bring onboard is limited or forbidden, you won't be forced into a walk of shame if you buy some of the local tipple to enjoy in your cabin (where fridges are provided) or with meals. Cheers!
The two 445-square-foot Explorer Suites on each vessel are 'proper' suites with a separate bedroom and lounge area.
Your shipmates will be mainly American, with Canadian, British and a smattering of other English speakers in the 55-plus bracket.
If your tastes tend toward opulent decor with gilt trimmings, this isn't the line for you.
Viking does not offer butlers or room service, and there is no onboard spa or hair salon. Concierges can book these for you on shore, if you ask.
There are no included or for-fee alternative dining venues. Although Aquavit gives you a different place to eat, the menu is usually a lighter version of the main restaurant menu at lunchtime and a small choice of 'always available' dishes, such as steak and salmon, in the evening.
Viking's vessels don't have a gym, swimming pool, bicycles or Nordic walking poles. The concierges can help you find exercise options when you're in port.