Viking River Cruises is largest river cruise line in the world. The extensive fleet is designed to navigate the world’s great rivers sailing in Europe, Russia and the Ukraine, Egypt, China, Vietnam and Cambodia. Viking ships provide convenient access to destinations and experiences along with the comforts of a professional staff and pleasant onboard meals.
When compared with its competitors, Viking is the most aggressively expanding river cruise line. Six new-build ships were added in 2012 with an additional ten vessels scheduled to launch in 2013 and eight more in 2014. These newly designed vessels include hybrid diesel-electric engines and noise-insulated engine rooms reducing fuel consumption by 20% as well as engine noise and vibration. Additional ‘green’ features include an onboard membrane water treatment plant, solar panels and organic herb garden.
Unique to Viking River Cruises is the fact it owns 65 centrally-located docking locations along rivers in Europe. As the ports are limited and local authorities determine who docks where, ownership of docking space does give Viking Guests an advantage when time in port is limited.
OWNERSHIP AND HISTORY
Viking River Cruises is one of the original global river cruising companies. About 20 years ago, Karine Hagen, daughter of Viking’s owner and Chairman took a multi-generational river cruise in Russia with members of her extended family. She reported back to her father what a lovely time was had by all and encouraged him to book a trip on the Volga River himself. Shortly thereafter, the Norwegian-native bought four Russian ships and Viking River Cruises was born.
Established in 1997, Viking steadily increased its fleet while catering to the European market. In 2000, Viking River Cruises expanded into the American market, establishing its headquarters in Los Angeles, California. As a result of additional purchases and new builds, including the 14 new Long Ships, today Viking River Cruises operates a fleet of roughly 40 ships.
Torstein Hagen earned his Bachelor’s Degree in at the Norwegian Institute of Technology and an MBA from University of South Florida. Mr. Hagen was formerly the CEO of Royal Viking Line, and has also served on the boards of Holland America Line and Kloster Cruise Ltd. The company’s Board of Directors includes prominent investors and financial leaders with background in the cruising and shipping industries.
OFFICER AND CREW
On all American Vessels, the crew onboard Viking River Cruises tend to be young Americans living abroad. All crew speaks English and has completed a proprietary training program implemented through Viking’s Swiss management team. Program Directors are native to the region, often raised in the countries you travel through and knowledgeable about the places you visit. These Program Directors are trained to manage and enrich guests’ experiences.
While accommodations onboard river cruise ships are limited by the size of the river and the need to navigate through locks, Viking’s staterooms do offer modern creature comforts. Most ships have been renovated or built since 2000 and offer outside staterooms with picture windows or sliding doors (French balconies). Storage and closet space is cleverly designed making the most efficient use of limited space and all rooms have a private bath with shower. Wireless internet, bottled water, and premium bath products are included complimentary and most ships include televisions, safes and refrigerators in staterooms. All ships are air-conditioned.
Best Accommodations: Featured on the newly designed Long Ships, the Explorer Suites are the largest of all river cruise suites in Europe at 445 square feet. These deluxe staterooms include a separate living room, bedrooms and private wrap-around veranda with 270 degree views. The Veranda Suites come in a close second with a veranda off of the separate living room and French balcony in the bedroom.
Standard Accommodations: French Balcony Staterooms are comfortable with a floor-to-ceiling sliding glass door, amble storage space and a queen bed which can be converted into two twins.
Entry-level Accommodations: While slightly larger than the French Balcony Staterooms, the Standard Staterooms are located on the lowest decks and include a half window near the ceiling as these cabins are at water level.
Suites aboard the new Long Ships include a large bathroom with double sinks and heated floor and mirror. Premium bath amenities are included in all staterooms as well as a hairdryer and vanity kit. Staterooms are equipped with showers while suites have both tubs and showers.
Dining is open seating at set times, primarily with tables of four and six. For those who wish to be seated a preferred table near the window or for larger groups who wish to sit together, you will need to arrive promptly at meal-time as reservations are not accepted and seating is on a first-come, first-serve basis. Menus are tailored to the local region you are sailing through and while the dining room is comfortable and overall the dining is good, foodies will be disappointed having expected a higher quality and greater consistency. There is no room service.
Breakfast is served buffet-style however you can also order omelets, pancakes and French toast. The fruit selection is limited and sometimes canned or previously frozen. An early-bird breakfast of coffee, tea, fruit juice and small pastries is also available at dawn each morning.
The lunch buffet features salads, sandwiches and a hot entree option such as pasta. Lunch can be enjoyed on the Sun Deck while dinner is always served in the restaurant. Dinner is a fixed menu with limited appetizer and entree options. Regional wine, beer and soft drinks are served complimentary at lunch and dinner. Guests may purchase wines locally while on shore and enjoy them with dinner. There is no corkage fee.
Tea is served each afternoon, which consisted of small cakes and Lipton tea. Coffee, cappuccino, tea and water are available at any time.
Dress is casual. There are no formal nights however for the Captain’s Welcome Dinner and/or Farewell Dinner most people will dress country club casual.
City orientation and highlights tours are offered complimentary in most ports of an itinerary. These tours are conducted by local guides to groups of 20 or 25 passengers, based upon fitness levels to set an appropriate walking pace. Additional tours offering greater depth and access to museums or specialty venues are provided for a supplemental cost. Most of these tours are proposed and can be booked once onboard however there are three which need to be arranged in advance; the Lobkowicz Palace in Prague, the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg and the Kremlin Armoury in Moscow. Reservations for the latter this tour must only be pre-arranged if your Volga River sailing is from Moscow to St. Petersburg, visits to the Kremlin Armoury can be booked onboard on sailings from St. Petersburg to Moscow.
Onboard Viking cruises you may also take advantage of the Onboard Host to assist with personalizing your shore excursions. This host acts like a hotel concierge and can arrange for reservations at local restaurants, book a spa appointments or theater tickets or arrange for a private car service. While this service, introduced in 2012, does add an additional level of service to the Viking experience, we would always recommend confirming your reservations for dining at finest establishments, taking in a performance or arranging private sightseeing tours well in advance to avoid disappointment.
Life onboard Viking River Cruises is low-key and relaxed. You can expect guest lectures, cooking demonstrations or the evening lounge musicians. Other onboard activities include hands-on crafts, cultural performances and tastings of local wines, cheeses or coffees. Some guests complain of being bored at night or when there are long stretches of time onboard.
SPA & FITNESS OPTIONS
Viking River Cruises’ ships do not feature a spa or gym, other than the new Viking Emerald on the Yangtze River in China. The onboard Viking Host will assist you to book a spa appointment at a local spa on European river cruises however this will severely limit your time to explore the local area.
AIR/SEA PROMOTIONAL PRICING
Viking offers contracted rates on international flights in conjunction with their river cruises. In order to arrive or depart on a date other than the embarkation or disembarkation sailing dates, select your preferred flight schedule or airline or arrive into or depart from an alternative city from the sailing itinerary, you must pay a $50 per person fee BEFORE being transferred to Viking’s air department. There will also be additional charges to deviate your flight itinerary to an alternative city or should you wish to stop over anywhere along the way. This being said, Viking’s contracted fares are competitive and if you book your air with Viking, they will include round trip transfers to and from the airport (assuming your flights coincide with ship/hotel check-in/check-out days), typically a $120 per person value.
If you decide to take a chance and leave booking your flights sight unseen to Viking, they will confirm the reservation 75 days prior to departure and provide you with the details 3 weeks before your trip with the final cruise documents. This timing is restrictive for those who are particular about seat assignments on long international flights.