…Catch up on Budapest, Hungary; Bratislava, Slovakia and Vienna, Austria; River Flooding Subsides; The Viking Embla Herself; Included and Optional Tours and The Highlight of the Cruise from our Live Cruise Review.
Ocean cruising and river cruising are fantastic forms of world travel, and soon, parent company Viking Cruises will be the first to offer both with Viking River Cruises and Viking Ocean Cruises, come 2015. For now, Viking commands international rivers with a fine fleet of luxurious longships, the superb Viking Embla included. After 15 days spent onboard for the line’s extensive Grand European Tour, we have grown even fonder of the Viking river experience.
The Viking Embla
The joys of river cruising can best be conveyed with a simple formula. Picture the relaxed ocean cruising lifestyle on famous rivers like the Danube, Rhine, Douro and Seine to start. Then add even closer proximity to foreign points-of-interest, subtract the fear of seasickness and divide the passenger crowds by thousands. There are not dozens of restaurant choices nor lavish entertainment offerings onboard the Viking Embla, but there is a pleasant return to an intimate form of travel, one focused more on the destinations themselves.
The Viking Embla is one of 16 Viking Longships, the line’s newest and most innovative riverboats. Impressively, an additional 12 of them are scheduled to launch in 2014. As each iteration continues to be improved upon, it will be exciting to see how the longships are elevated next year. Onboard the Viking Embla, less is more as the atrium chandelier and switchable opaque/transparent glass-enclosed cabin bathrooms of the earlier version have been abandoned for a more airy reception area and added stateroom discretion respectively.
Another improvement from the earliest generation is the relocation of the longship’s solar panels to the stern above the Explorer Suites to allow the sun deck railing to be pushed to the outer perimeter of the riverboat. These longships were stellar to begin with, and every modification, even when minor, enhances them every time. The original innovations that introduced a number of novel features to river cruising still shine most.
The Aquavit Terrace, named after the Scandinavian drink, is a delightful convertible patio at the bow that opens up the forward observation lounge for alfresco gatherings and meals and encloses it during inclement weather. Also, by cleverly offsetting the central corridor between the guest accommodations, larger than average veranda staterooms are available on one side of the ship while french balcony staterooms and veranda suites fill in the other side.
During our recent itinerary, we had the pleasure of staying in one of the longship’s veranda suites. Ordinarily describing something as a double-wide might make it sound less than luxurious. However, in this case, the adjective is appropriate to describe how the suites opposite from the veranda staterooms are indeed twice the width. In fact, each veranda suite features a full-sized veranda off the living room and a french balcony off the bedroom, plus two televisions, two climate zones, a mini-fridge and free water bottles replenished daily. Unlimited complimentary Wi-Fi is also a terrific perk onboard, but the signal is very unstable in the cabins themselves.
Storage is ample once divided amongst the two rooms, and the bathroom is very nice. Anytime you can turn around in an onboard shower without a close encounter with the enclosure is a good bath time. Also, a delightful rain shower head plus a handheld shower head are provided, and the L’Occitane bath products are sublime. While the glass surrounds of the veranda staterooms have made way for fully opaque walls, the sliding door on the veranda suite bathroom still features the fogged glass. This makes it tough to turn on the bathroom light at night without also illuminating the bedroom and waking your traveling companion. In other areas, the lighting is very convenient like the puck reading lights over the bed.
The food onboard our Grand European Tour was inconsistently good, ranging from acceptable but underwhelming flavors to some of the best entrees I’ve ever had on a cruise. Selections were nicely varied throughout the day with a mix of local flavors and old favorites. The chocolate topped donuts were great at breakfast. Also, lunches were particularly good and usually featured a great carving station, sides, salads and a dessert. Fresh Bavarian pretzels were always a treat when available and went great with the included house beer.
More often than not, dinners were exceptional, although some of the entree choices were occasionally a bit off-menu for some tastes. Nonetheless, I enjoyed what I consider to be some of the best seafood preparations I’ve ever seen onboard, and we enjoyed mixing up our dinners by also partaking in the bar snacks menu at the Aquavit Terrace, which in reality consisted of fairly hearty sandwiches, chili, a loaded potato or pasta. And the food service from maitre d’ Zoltan Beres was tops.
Viking River Cruises is so recommendable not only for its excellent longships but also its service. It’s remarkable just how much the program director has to do onboard. These men and women aren’t only cruise directors mind you. They handle all activities onboard and off, overseeing all the included and optional shore excursions. Ours, Korana Golubovic, was a rockstar and was ever friendly and took all things in stride even when logistical challenges presented themselves. The rest of the crew from servers to stewards were equally friendly and accommodating.
The Viking River Cruises experience is a great one and affords guests with a substantial bang for their hard-earned buck. We cannot wait to see what is in store for the next generation of Viking Longships as well as the Viking Star ocean cruise ship to follow. For more information on Viking River Cruises, visit the cruise line’s website here.
Are you intrigued by river cruising and Viking River Cruises? Please feel free to tell us about it in the comments section below…