Viking River Cruises had really improved the quality of the meals served aboard its ships and this attention to detail shows on Viking Beyla. We enjoyed specially made breads, yogurts and jams onboard and we also liked the contemporary interpretations of traditional dishes of the region, like Parma ham-wrapped pork medallions that were delicious but not overly rich or heavy. There was plenty of light fare to choose from -- salads were especially plentiful -- for anyone hoping to eat healthy throughout their cruise.
Main Restaurant (Deck 1): The main dining room's decor is simple yet comfortably contemporary. Windows line two sides and offer expansive river views. Fresh flowers are set on white linens and we liked the fresh fruit centerpieces at breakfast. The pace of dining is always relaxed and managed efficiently.
Meals in the main dining room are served open-seating style at set times that vary a bit depending on the itinerary. Hours are typically 7 a.m. to 9 a.m. Traditional U.S. and U.K. dishes hold court in the large, circular buffet areas in the center of the room. You'll find oatmeal with toppings, yogurt that's freshly made onboard, cheeses, baked beans and smoked salmon. You can order eggs cooked to order (there's also an omelet station), pancakes and French toast from your waiter.
There is a balance of options for lunch and dinner ranging from local fare (we had a lot of currywurst) to American and British dishes (the fish and chips were outstanding). Lunch from noon to 2 p.m. includes a soup and salad bar enhanced by treats like pate or delicacies based on the culinary traditions from the day's destination. Again, you also have a choice of ordering form a menu with a featured entree, pastas or sandwiches.
Typically served at 7 p.m., dinner features a full menu with four hot or cold starters (you can order one or more) and three entrees (usually a meat, fish and vegetable option). In addition to sweet desserts, there's a daily cheese plate reflecting local selections like Gouda, Bavarian blue and others. Several always-available choices include grilled salmon, charbroiled New York-strip steak and Caesar salad.
When we sailed this baby Longship we noticed that unlike Viking's more traditional new models that have a sprinkling of cozy two- or four-top tables, Viking Beyla offered mostly large tables of six and eight. Most passengers headed straight down to dinner after each evening's informational briefing in the lounge, but here was no pressure to do so and those who wandered in later were accommodated.
Aquavit Terrace (Deck 2): The other primary dining venue for all three meals is Aquavit Terrace and it's one of the loveliest spaces on any riverboat. The terrace, which adjoins the Observation Lounge, offers alfresco dining via floor-to-ceiling glass windbreaks installed all the way forward. The lounge itself has been outfitted with plenty of dining height tables as well.
For breakfast, there's a small selection of buffet options that include yogurt, cereal, fruit and pastry.
The Aquavit menu is a streamlined buffet of salads, hot soup and a couple of entree choices like carved meats or curried chicken sandwiches at lunch. On sunny days the chef manned the grill for freshly prepared burgers and skewers.
Fans of afternoon tea will appreciate the cookies and sandwiches, which are meant to bridge the gap between lunch and dinner.
We think dinner at Aquavit Terrace is the ship's best-kept secret. From 7 p.m. to 9 p.m., it turned out to be a terrific spot for casual, home fare. While menus vary on the Longships, our Elbe cruise featured Cobb salad, chicken quesadilla, steak and club sandwiches and a Greek salad.
If you seek privacy, you can use a take-out container 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 help bring food to the room in special circumstances. Viking Beyla's chefs can also accommodate restricted diets to some degree.
A choice of red and white house wines, matched to the places we visited in the Elbe region, were complimentary at lunch and dinner, as were beer and soft drinks. If you're more adventurous, the mostly locally sourced wine list offered dozens of choices by the glass, including red, white and rose. And another note: The ship's chef maintains an organic herb garden that you can visit on the sun deck.