Year Started: 1997
Ships in Fleet: 18
Summary: Viking River; lovely and modern European river cruise boats also in Russia, China, Egypt and Asia. Soon to start Viking Ocean cruises with free tours.
Viking River and Ocean Cruises is the largest river cruise company in Europe. The line has been expanding rapidly since 2011 and now has over 50 river boats sailing in Spain, France, Portugal, throughout Europe on the Rhine, Danube, Main and other rivers, as well as Russia, the Ukraine, and Southeast Asia.
In 2012 the line announced it is also getting into ocean cruising and has already ordered four new cruise ships, each capable of carrying 928 passengers, with the first to debut in 2015 and all four by 2017. The ships will feature included beverages, internet access while in port (daily) and shore excursions in the cruise fare.
Viking River was started by a consortium of Dutch and Swiss financiers, coordinated by a former Norwegian who was instrumental in starting Royal Viking Line cruise ships. In fact, for those who remember Royal Viking ships the resemblance in the decor is unmistakable. With that kind of pedigree, excellence is to be expected, and it is delivered.
Viking River is for travelers who want to see Europe without dealing with taxis, buses and unpacking in a different hotel every night. The prices are all-inclusive, including shore excursions and wine with dinner. The line is also for cruisers who have been to the Mediterranean and Baltic already, but want to see more of Europe.
The European shallow draft, low-profile river boats are designed specifically for European waterways and offer panoramic windows inside and side-to-side sun decks top-side to admire the scenery in style and comfort. The pleasant public rooms, including a main bar, a tiny library, and single-seating restaurant, are laid out bow to stern along the single public deck, with the accommodations decks below.
The upper deck cabins feature outside views through large picture windows that slide open for fresh air. In Western Europe, staterooms include televisions with CNN International and local stations, but not so in Russia. Telephone service is possible via cell-phones, so some of the boats don't even have them. All cabins have a private bathroom, hotel-style beds and individually controlled air conditioning.
The Russian River boats are a different breed, older and built in Russia in Soviet times, they have been mostly modernized, but still have a rustic Russian flavor, especially in the "cheap seats," the cabins on the lowest deck. There are two public decks with a large, single seating dining room and public lounges upstairs next to long, open deck space. There are three full decks of passenger cabins. The best bets are the topmost doubles or suites, which are far more commodious than the lowest level cabins, and not that much more expensive. The lower decks used to have tiny rooms with cots for beds, but they were upgraded in 2008 and brought up to the standards of the rest of the European fleet.
The onboard enrichment programs in Russia are excellent. Since all of the tours are included in the price of the cruise, the tour guides travel with you and are available for questions and insight the entire cruise. In addition, an expert in Russian history, politics and economics also travels the entire voyage giving lectures daily. See the related CruiseMates articles in the box on the right.
In China, cruisetours, which combine land and river components, feature visits to places such as Beijing, the Terra Cotta Warriors, and Shanghai. The Yangtze River sailings travel to the Three Gorges, Lesser Gorges, and Three Gorges Dam. All cruisetours are fully escorted from airport arrival to departure by English-speaking guides. Onboard Chinese meals are designed by Martin Yan and alternate with Western menus.
In 2011 Viking River announced the addition of an astounding 14 brand new "Longships" to be added to the fleet in 2012 and 2013. These river boats offer large suites with "French balconies" which open up to fresh air with floor to ceiling glass windows. These boats offer a large variety of suites for some of the largest staterooms on the rivers of Europe on average. Other aspects of the Longboats include:
Two Explorer Suites, the largest river cruise suites in Europe at 445 square feet, each featuring a separate living room, bedroom and private wraparound veranda, offering 270-degree views.
Seven two-room Veranda Suites with a full-size veranda in the living room and a French balcony in the bedroom.
Thirty-nine Veranda Staterooms with full-size verandas.
Twenty-two French Balcony Staterooms.
A new all-weather indoor/outdoor Aquavit Terrace with retractable floor-to-ceiling glass doors allowing guests to enjoy the scenery and dine al fresco.
New premium in-cabin amenities that include heated bathroom floors and mirrors, Sony HD TV's and premium bath products.
Sustainability upgrades, such as solar panels, an onboard organic herb garden and energy-efficient hybrid engines that reduce vibrations for a remarkably smooth ride.
Accommodating 190 passengers, the ships are scheduled to sail four of Viking's most popular European itineraries, including the 10-day Tulips & Windmills, 8-day Romantic Danube, 15-day Grand European Tour and 8-day Danube Waltz. The two newest ships, Viking Jarl and Viking Atla, will host guests on the 8-day Rhine Getaway cruise sailing from Amsterdam to Basel. Each of the new Viking Longships will be 443 feet (135 meters) long and will feature 95 staterooms per ship.
In China, as with Russia, all tours and transportation is included from the time you touch down at the airport. In Europe many tours are included (at least per port) but special optional tours come at an added cost.The Experience
The focus here is on sightseeing in comfort. The ships run from March through December (going "dark" in the deep winter months) throughout Europe. The itineraries generally including sailing in the early evening and docking in the morning to give passengers a chance to join an included tour in each port of call.
Naturally, the weather changes seasonally, so spring cruises focus on tulips (for example), summer cruises on beer halls and fall cruises on the changing foliage. Winter cruises are especially different, visiting the "Christmas Markets" of Europe, temporary fair-like marketplaces where locals sell food and homemade goods for Christmas gifts. The markets are generally open from mid November through late December. See my Christmas Cruise Report.
The ships are bright with a "Danish Modern" decor. The food reflects local cuisine, wine and beer is included with every meal. There are tours during the day and special lectures at night. The staff is friendly and accomodating. The guides are knowledgable. Tour groups are broken out into small groups of about 30 people.Dining
Breakfast and lunch are served with buffets as well as table service. You can collect food quickly for breakfast as well as order special eggs of omelettes.
Dinner is seated services with table waiters serving the meals. Over the years the food service has become more varied with a choice of several options on the menu nightly. Certain items are also available every night.
There is no room service on the ships and very little to eat during non-meal hours other than some cookies and rolls available with the espresso coffee maker that is online 24-hours a day. But picking up a few snacks to bring back to your cabin while in town is easy.Cabins
Staterooms on the newer ships especially are modern and very comfortable. Kingsize beds, large scgreen televisions, hot showers in bathrooms with heated floors and now even several staterooms with verandahs.Fellow Passengers
Passengers are mostly well traveled, these days mostly American since there are not so many boats the line no longer needs to mix groups that speak different languages (as they did in the beginning). Most are older adults, with few children or teens. But they are most very capable of long walks. This is not a senior set exclusively.Shore Excursions
Shore excursions, included in the fare, are planned every day, sometimes morning and afternoon. Evening programs are also offered as optional at additional charges. In Russia, the Moscow Circus or Kirov Ballet are such options.Kid's Excursions
no kids programs are offered.Past Passenger Programs
There is a loyalty program - consult the web site.Special Programs
Special "Dutch Tulip" cruises in April, and Christmas and Christmas Markets holiday cruises are also offered.Attire
European smart casual is the theme all the time. No formal nights or neckties required.Tipping
Gratuities are at the passenger's discretion but they are recommended at about $12 per passenger per day.