I HATE Cruises
I’m not a fan of the concept of an ocean cruise. It goes against my idea about what travel is about. In my mind, travel is about going to different places, interacting with people, and experiencing things unique to that location. The thought of being packed in a huge ship with 5000 of my fellow citizens, surrounded 80% of the time by the same view (water, lots of water; as far as the eye can see), was enough to send an introvert like me screaming into the abyss. In addition, I also worry about that one “Typhoid Mary” passenger or crew member who can turn the whole voyage into “Nightmare on the S.S. Rotavirus”.
I’ve also never been a fan of having an itinerary I didn’t create. I like to go where I want when I want; without being beholden to anyone’s travel plans except my own. So when my wife first broached the idea of taking a cruise down the Rhine, I shot it down faster than a duck on the first day of hunting season. But my wife is smarter than I am, so she dealt with most of my concerns as she explained the benefits of a river cruise. Unlike their ocean cruising cousins, river ships are MUCH smaller, with around 200 passengers. And for ocean vessels, the emphasis is on the actual ship. For a river cruise, it is really just a flowing hotel, moving place to place at night while we relaxed onboard. Every day we would have a new place to explore, either with a tour or on our own. That didn’t sound so bad.
As I said, my wife is smarter than me, so eventually she talked me into it. But since this would be our first cruise, I had several demands that must be met before I would consent to the trip. First, I didn’t want a cramped little stateroom down in the bowels of the ship. I wanted something with some space so I could get my “quiet” space when I needed it. Next, I didn’t want to do the ship-provided tours all the time. Some days I wanted to get off the ship and strike out on our own. These free days needed to be incorporated into our personal itinerary. My next “demand” is I wanted no part in the organization; my wife needed to set it up and deal with it all. Last, since this was a special “event” trip for us (my wife reached the 5 year post cancer treatment threshold), I didn’t want to quibble about money; just pay what we needed to pay and be done with it; my wife looked like a kid who got everything on her wish list on Christmas morning.
Overall Viking River Cruise Review
I will blog about some of the specific things we did on our trip in later posts, but here is our overall impressions from our trip
We selected the Viking Rhine cruise, starting in Basel, Switzerland. After spending two days in Basel on our own, we would board the Viking ship on the river and head down the Rhine. The ship would stop at towns and cities in Germany, France and The Netherlands. The cruuse would end in the Dutch city of Amsterdam. We selected Viking based on solid reviews and their ability to meet my requirements. I can say they did not disappoint.
Viking booked our airline flights and made all the necessary ground transportation arrangements once we got to Europe. My wife worked extensively with their booking agents. The agents were great at answering her questions, provided constructive advice, and researched options based on our interests. Once we finalized our travel dates we could access a personal portal on the Viking website. The portal allowed us to make changes to our trip itinerary and learn more about the trip. We could research the towns we planned to visit and book optional tours if desired.
To deal with my space demand, we booked one of the 2 “Explorer” suites. This is the largest suite on the ship, with a sitting room and a separate bedroom. We have stayed in smaller hotel rooms in our travels, so I had no complaints there. My only issue was the location of the Explorer suites on the ship. They are located on the ship’s stern, with the propellers just below the balcony. This sometimes made it a little noisy at night when the ship usually travels to its next destination. The “Veranda” suites or staterooms might be a better choice for most travelers; less expensive but still quite roomy.
Because the ship has only 200 passengers, the ship’s crew is fairly small. However, in a lot of ways that makes it better. Over the course of the trip you see the same crew members, and you recognize them and they recognize you. That familiarity was a positive to us as we ended up with our “favorite” waiters and support staff. Since the ship requires you to alert them when you leave the ship for the day, the cleaning crew know when passengers are off the ship to clean the staterooms. From tour directors, guides, wait staff, cleaning crew and ship’s crew, we have only great reviews. In my mind, it was the best part of the trip.
I have heard horror stories of the lousy food on cruise ships. Luckily, this was NOT the case on this ship. Dining on the ship was excellent, with good food selections, preparation and service. Wait staff did their best to accommodate even the pickiest eater. Wine pairings were fair, and overall the wine was good. As the ship cruised through different countries, food and wine reflected the region the ship was in. For example, when in the Alsace-Lorraine region of France, wine served at dinner was local Alsatian varieties. I can vouch for the food by a personal piece of information. I typically lose weight when I travel because of the constant walking and the fact I’m a finicky eater. On this trip, I gained 6 pounds. (Argh!)
This is the one area of the Viking River cruise that could be improved. While there were some OUTSTANDING tours (Swiss Alps day trip from Basel was excellent, and I liked the Marksburg Castle tour a lot as well), some of the tours were a little anticlimactic. Sometimes I felt that the tours were more tourist business arrangements than actual “sightseeing”. I realize many of the tours have to deal with the “lowest common denominator” in terms of passengers’ age and mobility. But if there was one area I would request more information when booking a trip with Viking, it would be here.
As you can surely tell by now, our trip was excellent and an outstanding success. While I never be interested in cruising on the S.S. Rotavirus, I will happily consider another Viking river cruise sometime in the future. My wife and I had a great time, met some wonderful people, interacted with a great crew. Outside of coming home 6 pounds heavier, it was a great experience.