Seems like every travel magazine, article, and TV commercial these days is promoting the wonders of European River Cruising. The images show happy, middle aged couples smiling, relaxing, visiting castles, and strolling through quaint old towns with cobblestone streets, sipping wine in vineyards and generally living la Vida loca.
Years ago, I had the opportunity to experience a couple of Caribbean cruises. The 6 ports in 7 days, all inclusive, lots of food, drinks, parties and more food kind of cruise. I recall some of the more memorable ports, but decided then that cruising was not my preferred mode of travel.
Fast forward twenty plus years, many great adventures, experiences and countries around the world later, and I discovered myself on a river cruise.
It all happened when an old friend of mine from my travel career days, who works as a Cruise Rep, was calling on a travel agency in Edmonton to promote her newest Viking River Cruise “Chateaux, Rivers and Wine” in Bordeaux France. It is a specialty trip appealing mostly to wine lovers. The agent expressed to her that he would love to get a group to travel on it, but preferred to partner with a local wine store to help market the trip. Alas, I received a phone call, met with the agent and last October our little group of nine wine lovers experienced an utterly amazing time.
For travelling in Europe, river cruising is perfect. After all, rivers criss- cross the entire continent, and until recent times were the main highways for getting around. The “long ships” that are used are fabulous. Modern, sleek, efficient, quiet, stable, and offer both convenience and luxury. Unlike large ocean cruise ships, these river boats hold less than 200 guests and often up to about 100 crew. Needless to say, service is exceptional. The international team of room stewards, waiters, tour guides, and kitchen and boat crew were wonderful. Friendly and always helpful, they sought out ways to ensure our cruise was memorable in every way.
Personal experiences aboard the Viking Forseti were incredible. Built and launched early in 2014, the state of the art vessel was extremely comfortable, with well thought out designs throughout. The public areas were tastefully decorated in a subtle Scandinavian theme, with light woods, blues, greys and whites. In addition to the spacious dining room, there was also a beautiful bar/piano lounge and an outdoor deck area where we chose to enjoy many an afternoon in the sunshine with a glass of wine, or after dark under the stars with a Cognac. The top deck had a full walking track around the perimeter and comfortable chaise lounges to relax in or out of the sun. Growing in raised beds down one side of the ship was a beautiful herb/kitchen garden where the chef chose fresh herbs for his daily dishes.
The wheel house, the Captain’s domain, located on the top of the vessel amidships was an ultra-modern fully computerized navigation centre that could be raised and lowered by the simple press of a button. This feature is necessary when negotiating under bridges and dealing with changing tides on many of the waterways in Europe, therefore, allowing access to even more waterways.
Unless you are fortunate enough to be staying in a deluxe suite on one of the higher decks (there are only three), all cabins on the boat are virtually the same layout. On the lowest deck, rooms have large river level windows instead of small portholes, which afford good views of the shoreline. On the main deck, cabins include a small balcony where two chairs and a little table allow you to relax in your own private space overlooking the river scenery.
The configuration of the cabin is basic yet efficient. All beds are single, and can therefore be arranged into two single beds, or one large king-size bed. Night tables, reading lamps, dresser with drawers and large mirror and small fridge are located opposite the beds. Storage space is plentiful and available both under the beds (for suitcases) and inside a closet for hanging and folded clothes and shoes. The bathroom was spacious, and well designed with a wall mounted toilet, large sink and glassed step in shower. A large mirror with inset lighting and a fog free interior was a highlight for me as so often lighting in a bathroom is dismal at best. The amenities were supplied by L’Occitane, the famous French company from Provence. We all smelled divine!
During the week aboard, you can choose to do as much or as little as you like. There are included shore excursions to take, optional tours to purchase, a library from which to borrow books or games, a coffee and tea station available all day and night. Breakfasts can be served to your cabin or taken in the large, bright dining room with new friends you have made. Lunch is served both in the dining room and on the outdoor terrace (weather permitting). Dinner is one sitting and served formally in the dining room. The airy and comfortable bar lounge can be enjoyed during the day for reading and gathering with friends, and later on for cocktails and evening entertainment. We were treated nightly to beautiful, live piano music.
Fresh, international cuisine is prepared by professional chefs for every meal. It is regional, healthy and well portioned. Plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables sourced from local markets, along with fresh fish, poultry and meats abound. Delicious bakery items and desserts are not to be missed. The bar stocks premium brands and one can purchase an “upgraded” bar package that ensures the best of the best is served to you.
Unlike the ocean cruises, dressing up for evening meals means donning long pants and collared shirts for men and smart casual attire for women. You can safely leave tiaras and ball gowns at home! A boon when airlines are charging for extra luggage these days.
So, if you’ve been watching longingly at the Viking Cruise commercials during Masterpiece Theatre (we know you’re hooked on Downton Abbey!) seriously consider taking one on your next holiday. We’ve been asked to host another European cruise either late 2015 or in 2016 so you can come aboard with us! Might be Southern France, or The Rhine, we don’t know yet, but wherever it sails, you can be assured that it will be the best vacation you’ve ever had.
If you are interested in coming aboard with us on our next river cruise, please sign up for our e-newsletter where we will post information and updates. Visit www.aligrawineandspirits.com