Just getting back to reality after a wonderful holiday on the Viking Ingvi, during which we were pampered every step of the way. Great as it was, however, the cruise (Tulips and Windmills from Amsterdam) was not perfect, and as I struggled ... Read More
Just getting back to reality after a wonderful holiday on the Viking Ingvi, during which we were pampered every step of the way. Great as it was, however, the cruise (Tulips and Windmills from Amsterdam) was not perfect, and as I struggled to find a realistic view of what to expect before departure, I hope what follows will help future passengers.
To put my comments in perspective, here’s a little bit about us to set the scene…We’ve been keen travellers all our lives, and for many years organised our holidays independently. Then about 10 years ago we discovered cruising – and like many before us were hooked on this effortless way of seeing new places. Since then we’ve been on some 12 cruises with different companies, though mainly with our favourite, Cunard.
In other words, our days of budget holidays are past…but though we’re lucky enough to be on a bigger budget these days, value for money is still a prime consideration.
Our first river cruise some three years ago was in the South of France on one of Viking’s older ships, the Viking Neptune. We enjoyed it so much, we’ve been keen to return, and had high expectations of what we would find on the Ingvi, one of the company’s new longships.
Well, there’s no doubt the ship is impressive. As befits a vessel with Scandinavian owners, the Viking Ingvi is sleek and airy, with a fresh, pale colour scheme and lots of light wood. Light floods into the public areas, particularly the dining room with its floor to ceiling windows.
Our standard cabin – or stateroom to use Viking’s terminology – was on the lower deck and boasted a supremely comfortable king-size bed with duvet and bedding that was changed once during our nine-night trip. We particularly appreciated the luxuriously-fitted bathroom with underheated wood-effect floor, plenty of fluffy white towels and L’Occitane toiletries. There was also a huge wall-mounted TV on which you could get a couple of news channels and choose from a wide selection of films divided into categories such as new releases, romance, history and comedy. A telephone, refrigerator, safe and hairdryer were also provided. Hanging space in the wardrobe was quite limited – we removed the plentiful supply of wooden hangers provided and used our own plastic ones to make the most of it – while the ‘half-height’ picture window promised by Viking turned out to be no more than a third-height at the most, and above the eye-line of anyone under about 5’ 9”.
Admittedly, the 150sq ft standard cabins are the lowest-priced on board, but even though we snapped up a late bargain, at well over £100 a night it could hardly be described as cheap. So we were a little surprised to find that we scarcely had room to move about, and if anyone was using the dressing-table stool, the only way round was to climb over the bed.
What’s more surprising is that the next category up, French Balcony cabins, for which there is a hefty premium, had even less space, a miserly 135sq ft, the rest presumably having been taken for the balcony.
Friends who stayed in one of the much more spacious veranda suites (275sq ft) loved their stateroom, but pointed out that they wouldn’t pay the extra £1,000 or so plus again as they didn’t have a view – or privacy – on at least four days. This was because their side of the boat was either up against the dock wall or parked alongside (ie touching) another river cruise boat. (When docking space is at a premium, boats double park with entrances aligned so that passengers can walk through the neighbouring vessel to get to their boat).
Breakfast: Wide choice of juice, yoghurts, cereal, porridge, fruit, smoked salmon, scrambled eggs, bacon, sausages, potatoes, pastries and muffins etc available from the buffet in the main dining room. Pancakes, omelettes and poached eggs cooked to order.
Lunch: Three-course menu available in the main dining room or a lighter lunch menu served forward of the main lounge, with its open-air terrace particularly popular on warmer days. The choice here tended to be very limited – one day it was chicken, chicken or chicken!
Dinner: We ate in the main dining room every night, where we enjoyed a varied selection of dinners occasionally reflecting the areas through which we were travelling. The five courses Viking advertises consisted of an amusee bouche, starter, main, dessert and tea or coffee. Portion sizes are small – one evening one of our dining companions chose trout fillets for his main course and received a small bowl containing just three or four very small fillets…no vegetables or potatoes!
Soft drinks, beer and wine are complimentary at mealtimes, with an interesting, high-quality range of wines changing by the day.
Snacks: There is no charge either for the hot chocolate, tea and coffee (latte or cappuccino) available at all times from the machine at the entrance to the lounge, together with cookies and pastries. My husband enjoyed the hot chocolate, I found the coffee just acceptable.
As mentioned earlier, the dining room has floor to ceiling windows – but unfortunately on several evenings our view was obscured by another boat parked alongside – so close it seemed their passengers were at the next table!
The fare includes one trip every day. It was noticeable that more additional excursions – to be paid for – are now offered compared with our last trip with Viking, but there was no hard sell as you so often get on sea cruises.
The organisation of all the excursions was superb. On our particular cruise a fleet of Viking’s own coaches followed us around, we were well looked after the whole time and the guides provided were all extremely informative.
One of the most unusual outings was a walking tour of Hoorn, a historic harbour town packed with old merchant houses and cheese warehouses, followed by a stop for coffee in the home of a local family. We were divided into groups of eight and taken to various addresses – in our case the home of a retired town planner and his wife. They were superb hosts who were happy to answer questions about all aspects of their life while serving up Dutch apple pie, butter cake and the local stroopwafel biscuits (a syrupy caramel filling sandwiched between two thin layers of baked dough).
The programme was both wide-ranging and educational – taking in city sights in Amsterdam, Antwerp, Bruges and Ghent; wartime exploits at Arnhem; an insight into how the Dutch manage the threat of floods; the UNESCO world heritage site of Kinderdijk, with its 19 windmills from the 18th century; Delft pottery; and, of course, the stunning tulip park at Keukenhof.
In addition to the excellent on-board piano player who tinkled away each evening and lunchtime, we were treated to two musical evenings - the first with a Dutch duo whose carefully-chosen programme of standards went down a storm, and the second the Rotterdam Shanty Choir who proved another hit. One night a clog-maker came on board to demonstrate his skills (and sell his wares) while on another there was a demonstration by a silversmith.
Programme director Elizabeth ran a couple of quiz/game nights, and also gave Powerpoint presentations on Dutch life, tulips and water management, which we found a bit too 'worthy' for our taste after dinner.
In a word – superb. From the indefatigable and highly-organised programme director Elizabeth to our cabin steward, they worked their socks off to ensure everyone had a great holiday. Their success is apparent from the high number of repeat bookings they have every cruise – as we saw at the introductory meeting when there was a huge show of hands from past passengers.
Nobody’s perfect, but the Ingvi team had a damn good try. At the price we paid, we feel our holiday was value for money, though had we paid the brochure price the verdict would have been different. (For the same price, we could have had a 15-day cruise with Cunard, travelling much further afield, though we would, of course, have had to pay for drinks and excursions.)
Would we travel with Viking again? You bet…But for reasons explained earlier, we will not be shelling out for a higher-grade cabin.
We will also make sure that we do not end up in cabin 101, where we spent our first night on this holiday. It was directly under the reception area, and though we are not particularly light sleepers the constant movement above kept us awake. As the boat was not full, we were lucky enough to be able to move to midway along the lower deck corridor, where there was no noise from above, though like in all cabins on this deck we were sometimes disturbed by noise from the engines. Read Less