The decor of the main dining room is simple and comfortably contemporary, but what really wows are the floor-to-ceiling windows that envelop the space in its outside environment. Fresh flowers are set on white linens (fresh fruit as a centerpiece at breakfast), and the pace of dining is relaxed and efficiently managed, though the staff is not overly attentive.
Meals in the main dining room are served open-seating at set times (which can vary slightly, depending on the itinerary). Breakfast (typically 7 a.m. to 9 a.m.) is from a large, circular buffet area in the center of the room that includes oatmeal with toppings, yogurt, cheeses and meats. There's also an omelet station, or you can order pancakes, French toast or eggs cooked to your taste from your waiter. Lunch (noon to 2 p.m.) includes a soup and salad bar enhanced by such treats as pate, which are often based on culinary traditions from the day's destination. Again, you also have a choice of ordering from a menu with a featured entree, pastas or sandwiches.
Dinner (typically at 7 p.m.) features a full menu with four hot or cold starters (you can order one or more) and three entrees (usually a fish, meat and vegetarian option). In addition to sweet desserts, there's a daily cheese plate reflecting local selections (Gouda, Bavarian blue, etc.). Always-available choices include grilled salmon, charbroiled New York-cut steak and Caesar salad.
* May require additional fees
Overall, Viking River has clearly upgraded its culinary commitment; on our Bordeaux cruise, menus consistently tied in with the places we visited, and food quality was superb.
The dining room is configured with tables for four, six, eight and one for 10. Five tables can be separated by a few inches for those wanting dinner for two (though not with that much privacy).
The Aquavit Terrace opens for breakfast with a small array of buffet options, including yogurts, cereal, fruit and pastries, and offers a more casual alternative. The space connects the ship's main lounge to a conservatory-style room with a glass ceiling and sides that open, leading to a small, truly alfresco dining area comprised of nine tables on the ship's bow. Glass windbreaks block some breezes, and heaters warm things up on chillier days. There are also tables and a couple of comfy patio-style wicker couches in the glassed-in space for those who want views without breezes.
At lunch, the Aquavit menu is a streamlined buffet of salads, hot soup and a couple of entree choices, such as carved meats or curried chicken sandwiches. On sunny days, chefs manned the grill for freshly prepared skewers and burgers.
At dinner (7 p.m. to 9 p.m.), the Aquavit Lounge was the ship's best kept secret – it turned out to be a terrific spot for casual, home fare that ranged from burgers to quesadillas, with a nice selection of salads.
If you want privacy, there are take-out containers you can use to bring your meal up to the top sun deck to eat at the bar in the lounge or even on your cabin balcony. There is no room service, but the maitre d' can assist with bringing food to the room in special circumstances. Restricted diets can also be accommodated to some degree.
Red and white house wine, which each day were matched to the places we visited in Bordeaux, are complimentary at lunch and dinner, as are beer and soft drinks . For those who prefer to be adventurous, the locally-sourced wine list offered dozens of choices by the glass, both red, white and rose.
As a quick breakfast alternative, coffee and pastries are available in the ship's lounge. Two coffee and tea stations in the upper atrium are also open 24/7 and have self-service machines that can produce lattes and cappuccinos, with mini-pastries offered in the morning and cookies in the afternoon.