by Sue Bramhall
(Editor’s Note: Sue Bramhall is the owner of Mind’s Eye Travel.)
We’re just home after back-to-back river excursions through Europe — down the Rhine from Amsterdam to Basel, Switzerland, and then the Danube River from Passau, Germany, to Budapest in Hungary. These were our first experiences with Viking River Cruises, and they were so positive and enjoyable that I just have to tell you about them. Even our guide dogs were enthused!
First, Viking’s spacious new long ships could almost have been designed for us. With fewer than 200 passengers, everything happens on just three decks, which are easily reached by wide, well-marked staircases or an elevator, and oversize glass doors that open and close automatically. Stability is never a concern either, as these ships are on calm rivers. The staterooms are well laid out, with large flat-screen TVs and fixtures that would suit a good hotel. In the dining room and the lounges, the food was simply superb.
Our shore excursions were flawlessly planned, managed and hosted, with professional local guides and drivers, and the best in-ear sound systems we’ve ever used. Each day we docked right in our destination cities, so we spent less time on buses and more time on the ground. With so few passengers, there’s no huge scrum getting on or off the ships, either.
Viking owns most of the docks where its ships tie up, as well as the luxury coaches that ferried us around, so everything was clean, safe and meticulously maintained and operated. Access and mobility were very good, and our day trips were low-impact. Viking even made sure that we could move at our own pace.
Unlike many ocean-cruise operations, Viking includes its shore excursions in the overall price, so there’s no sticker shock at the end of the trip. In a few places the ships offered optional activities at extra cost, but these were special things like bicycle trips and were fairly priced. Overall, the pace of each cruise was perfect — a very comfortable mix of activity and relaxation.
Our fellow passengers were American, British, Canadian and Australian; everyone (the crew, too) spoke English. Many told us that they much preferred this to ocean cruises on enormous ships with thousands of people. Some were re-connecting with their families’ European roots. On the Rhine, two days before his Medicare birthday, my husband found himself in Strasbourg, the lovely French-German city where he was born. (As he told our guide that day, “I come back every 65 years.”)
Finally, three words about Viking service: the very best. Everyone on both our ships, Viking Hlin and Viking Njord — maître d’s and waiters, chefs, bartenders, chambermaids, receptionists, deckhands and officers — was not only highly professional but also extremely helpful and unfailingly considerate of us and our special needs. We can’t wait to go back!
And we are going back. Next May, Mind’s Eye will travel with Viking on the River Seine, from the center of Paris up to the beaches of Normandy. If you’re interested in joining us, please let me know. With 63 ships (and counting), Viking now cruises throughout Europe and Asia, with North America coming soon. If Mind’s Eye Travel can assist you in planning one of these wonderful adventures . . . well, that’s what we’re here for.
Want to learn more? Contact Sue at Mind's Eye Travel, [email protected]; visit the web site, www.mindseyetravel.com or call her at (207) 236-2188 Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Eastern, or at (207) 542-4438.