The attention to dining on Viking River Cruises shows as the line has really improved its culinary quality. From specially made breads, yogurts and jams onboard, to contemporary interpretations of traditional dishes of the region, such as pork medallions wrapped in parma ham -- delicious but not overly rich or heavy. There is plenty of light fare -- salads were bountiful, for instance -- for those looking to emphasize healthy eating.
Main Restaurant (Deck 1): The decor of the main restaurant, located on deck one, is simple and comfortably contemporary. Windows line two sides and offer expansive river views. Fresh flowers are set on white linens (fresh fruit is the centerpiece at breakfast), and the pace of dining is relaxed and efficiently managed.
Meals in the main dining room are served open seating at set times (which can vary slightly, depending on the itinerary). Breakfast, largely influenced by traditional U.S. and U.K. dishes, is available from a large, circular buffet area in the center of the room that includes oatmeal with toppings, yogurt that's freshly made onboard, cheeses, baked beans and smoked salmon. There's also an omelet station; you can order pancakes, French toast or eggs cooked to your taste from your waiter. Hours are typically 7 a.m. to 9 a.m.
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For lunch and dinner, menus offered a balance of options, from local fare (we had a lot of currywurst) to American and British dishes (the fish and chips was out of this world). Lunch (noon to 2 p.m.) includes a soup and salad bar enhanced by such treats as pate, and is 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.
One difference on the baby Longships versus Viking's more traditional new models is that there are mostly large tables of six and eight rather than a sprinkling of more cozy two- or four-tops. Most passengers headed straight down to dinner after each evening's informational briefing in the lounge, but there was no pressure to do so and those who wandered in later were accommodated.
Aquavit Terrace (Deck 2): The other primary option for dining, and available for all three meals, is the Aquavit Terrace, one of the loveliest spaces on any riverboat. Adjoining the Observation Lounge, the terrace offers alfresco dining via floor-to-ceiling glass doors that can be opened in good weather, and closed in bad. It's also wind-protected via a set of 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, including yogurts, cereal, fruit and pastries.
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.
Afternoon tea, with cookies and sandwiches, is meant to bridge the gap between lunch and dinner.
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-style fare. Aquavit menus vary on the Longships; on our Elbe cruise options included Cobb salad, chicken quesadilla, steak and club sandwiches and a Greek salad.
If you want privacy, there are takeout 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.
Choices of red and white house wines, which were matched to the places we visited in the Elbe region, were complimentary at lunch and dinner, as were beer and soft drinks. For those who prefer to be adventurous, the mostly locally sourced wine list offered dozens of choices by the glass, red, white and rose. And another note: The ship's chef maintains an organic herb garden, located on the sun deck.