A Love Affair with Viking River Cruises: Part One by Terry Zinn

There is no better way to travel and see more interesting things than on a cruise. Unpacking once, having an amenable home base for dining, education, entertainment and security are all additional cruise advantages. The ultimate cruise experience is river cruising, where there is never a dull visual moment. Whether moving slowly along picturesque landscapes or stopping at iconic locales to sample the best they have to offer, river cruising is a travel seekers delight.
My summer cruise along the Danube and Rhine Rivers in central Europe was just such a joy aboard Viking Danube of Viking River Cruises. I cruised several years ago with this company through the canals and rivers of the Netherlands in the height of their tulip season, so I had expectations for this fifteen day Grand European Cruise. Many improvements had been made since that enjoyable cruise, and I can easily now see why Viking is the most awarded river cruise line.

The daily routine, while predictable, was never a bore. Starting off the day with an overwhelming come and go breakfast buffet suited my non-morning personality perfectly. Then it was either preparing for an onshore morning tour (always included in the price of the cruise) or confirming an optional afternoon tour (which was always worth the price and effort for a full day of touring.) Viking rates their daily walking tours in relation to physical exertion, so passengers can choose the tour best suited for their ability.
After the morning tour, we would return to the ship for beverage refreshments before lunch, which was served in the restaurant or in the lounge for a more casual light lunch. Cocktail hour had George playing away as all enjoyed exchanging tour experiences or just relaxing as the world glided by outside and peered through expansive windows. I must mention that Tibor (in his 8th season with the Danube) and Danielle, efficiently and congenially executed cocktail requests, whether it was my usual or their ever-changing specialty of the day.
Soon Kurt, our program director, would join us for an over view of the next days events and pass out administrative announcements. Off to dinner, where we found the presentation of 4 course cuisine astounding. A selection of regional specialties were offered with an option of ordering a traditional steak, chicken or pasta alternative ~ wine always included. In my experience Viking River Cruises caters to its passengers, making all feel like VIPs. And with only 148 maximum passengers aboard the Viking Danube, this was easily accomplished.
After dinner it was either relaxing in the lounge, escaping to the library for solitude, planning your next day’s activities, viewing a destination oriented movie in your cabin, or going up on the sun deck to marvel at the ever changing scenery.
Highlights of my cruise from Budapest to Amsterdam included a night time river salute to the lit buildings and bridges of Budapest, to the exceptional Vienna Palace Concert of Mozart and of course the celebration of cruising by the castles of the Rhine valley.
The time seemed all too short as I had developed traveler relationships with the crew and fellow passengers, who once were strangers, but now compatriots. Through mutual travel experiences you naturally bond with fellow passengers, adding to the credit of river cruising. To paraphrase an old commercial, “Try it, you’ll like it.” I say, “Try river cruising, you’ll love it!” And with six new Viking ships scheduled to launch in 2012, you’ll love it even more.