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Viking River Cruises

Viking River Cruises - Cruise Line Review

Viking River Cruises is a leading river cruise line

Viking Skyby Ralph Grizzle. An award-winning travel writer, and recognized cruise ship expert.

Viking River Cruises is a leading river cruise line, taking passengers to destinations throughout Europe, China, Russia, and Egypt on its 21 deluxe vessels.

Viking River Cruises is known for its quality, service, and value while providing travelers with a new perspective of the world’s most fascinating places. Viking’s planned, all-inclusive packages offer travelers an easy and affordable way to look beyond the pages of history books and see different parts of the world on an intimate and engaging level.

Quick Facts
• Number of ships in fleet: 19
• 2010 Charters: Two vessels in Egypt, one in China
• Newest ship: 189-passenger Viking Legend, July 2009
• Oldest ship: 210-passenger Viking Surkov, 1984 (refurbished 2008)

The Viking Fleet
Viking River CabinViking’s recently updated ships are designed for comfort with a flat-bottomed hull to reduce motion sickness and provide a smoother ride for those on board. Each hotel-quality stateroom provide a sitting area or balcony to enjoy the outside view of the river and scenery. Rooms are outfitted with satellite TVs and quality European bed linens. Ships include sun decks with 360-degree views of stunning architecture and landscapes.

For on-board meals, Viking keeps its dining rooms casual but elegant with panoramic windows and allows open seating so that guests may sit wherever and with whomever they choose, giving diners a feeling of freedom and flexibility.

Cruise Europe with Viking River CruisesThe lounge and bar on the ships gives travelers a way to socialize with other guests while enjoying the music and dance floor. Ships also include libraries and spa facilities for ultimate relaxation.

The Destinations
Viking offers dozens of cruises to choose from, ranging from 8 days to 17 days. The ships often travel during the night so guests can get off the ship and explore something new every day.

Viking has a wide selection of cruises in Europe including its 15-day Grand European Tour. This tour begins in the capital of the Netherlands, Amsterdam, and travels along the Rhine, Main, and Danube Rivers. The cruise includes 14 guided tours in five countries where travelers can take in the sights, culture, and cuisine of each city stop before arriving to the final destination in Budapest. Travelers are led to the best and most famous sights of each city with plenty of time to explore on their own.

Viking’s longest cruise in Russia and the Ukraine is its 16-day Russian Rhapsody. This expansive, in-depth cruise begins with three days in St.Petersburg with time spent enjoying museums, city tours of world-famous cathedrals and palaces, and even a traditional performance of a Russian ballet or opera. The ship then travels to eight more cities with 13 guided tours before ending in Moscow for the final four days with one whole day to explore Moscow freely.

Destinations aren’t limited to European and Russian tours, Viking offers five cruises to choose from in China and two to choose from in Egypt.

Viking to build eight new ships

by Michelle Baran

Viking River Cruises is spending $250 million to build eight new ships and do two refurbishments over the next three years.

The eight new vessels will bring the total number of ships operated Viking to 26, an increase in capacity of more than 40%, according to Viking.

The first new ship, Viking Prestige, will launch in Europe in 2011. Additionally, the new Viking Emerald will replace the Viking Century Sun on China’s Yangtze River in 2011. Three additional European vessels will follow in 2012, and four in 2013.

“We believe that river cruising is still in its infancy, and has tremendous growth potential. Our fleet plans will benefit the industry as a whole, by increasing supply in a marketplace in which demand is exceeding available inventory,” Torstein Hagen, chairman of Viking, said in a statement.

Richard Marnell, senior vice president of marketing at Viking said the company is running at about a 97% load factor for 2010.

The 189-passenger Viking Prestige, will be a sister ship to the Viking Legend, which launched last fall, and will feature some of the same green features such as a hybrid propulsion system. The prestige will sail Viking’s 8-day Romantic Danube itinerary, from Budapest to Nuremberg. It will also feature French balconies on the top two decks.

The Prestige is being designed by Norwegian maritime architects Yran & Storbraaten, and will be built by the Neptun Shipyard in Rostock, Germany, part of the Meyer Neptun Group.

In 2011, Viking will also introduce the 264-passenger Viking Emerald on the Yangtze River in China. It will feature 840-square-foot presidential suites with separate sitting and sleeping areas, two flat-screen televisions, panoramic windows and private wrap-around balconies. The 269-square-foot staterooms will have hotel-style beds and private balconies.

In addition to the new ships, Viking plans on completely refurbishing the Viking Pakhomov in Russia, which will undergo a bow-to-stern renovation like those of its sister ships, the Viking Surkov and Viking Kirov, relaunched in 2008 and 2009, respectively. It will feature hotel-style beds and flat-panel televisions. Public areas, such as the restaurant, lounges, library and bar, will also be completely remodeled.

In Europe, Viking Schumann, a ship purpose-built for the Elbe River with a shallow draft, will receive bow-to-stern refurbishments to match those of sister ship Viking Fontane, for 2010. All public areas, including the restaurant, bar and lounge, will be refurbished. Additionally, on the upper deck, eight 180-square-foot deluxe staterooms are being created.

Viking completes $2 million Fontane refurbishment

Viking River Cruises completed a $2 million gut renovation of the Viking Fontane, which relaunched on March 27, after being laid up since January for the winter

Viking River Cruises has just completed a $2 million gut renovation of the Viking Fontane, which relaunched on March 27, after being laid up since January for the winter.

As part of the refurbishment, the 110-passenger Fontane, which was originally built in 1991, received eight deluxe category staterooms on its upper deck, each measuring 180 square feet and with hotel-style beds. Beds in the standard staterooms (categories A, B, C, D) have been renovated to include standard-size single beds, which are larger and more comfortable than the previous Pullman-style beds, according to Viking.

According to Richard Marnell, senior vice president of marketing at Viking, the Fontane was redesigned to be more consistent with the Viking Legend class of vessels with a Scandinavian aesthetic.

“We feel that 2010 is the perfect time to rollout our fleetwide update program in Europe, and it made sense to start with Viking Fontane, an intimate ship sailing one of our more popular itineraries,” Marnell said in a statement. “As with the recent rollout of refurbishments to our Russia ships, the modifications are not just soft renovations like carpets and drapes. We have invested in the ship with changes throughout and upgraded furniture to provide more comfort and category choices for our guests.”

The public areas such as the restaurant, bar and lounge, were also updated, but the staterooms received the most attention.

Why River Cruising In Europe?

River cruising in Europe - Viking Primadonna in Passau

In 1992, Europe’s age-old maritime landscape changed dramatically. It was that year that the Main-Danube Canal opened, connecting the Continent’s main arteries — and along with them, all of Europe.

The completion of the canal spawned grand cruise itineraries from Amsterdam to Budapest — and beyond. An engineering marvel, the 106-mile Main-Danube Canal permits modern-day vessels to travel from the North Sea to the Black Sea, opening up more than 2,200 miles of river and exposing today’s travelers to life along the banks.

Tributaries and smaller rivers flow into the main arteries to provide additional opportunities not only to reach deep into the heart of the Continent but also to explore some of its more remote regions.

The opening of the canal also meant that no longer would travelers need to sit with their noses pressed against the windows of busses as they moved from one destination to the next. Instead, travelers admire the scenery from the ship’s sun deck as they are transported along with their accommodations.

Nor would travelers have to obligingly put out their luggage by 7 a.m. (or earlier) to be loaded onto the motorcoach before it set off to the next destination. River travelers unpack only once during the course of their cruise as they move from one city to the next.

River cruising emerged to introduce an entirely new concept to Europe: that of floating hotels that journey between destinations. In its simplest form, a river cruiser is nothing more than a barge with a hotel on top.

For many travelers, the slow chug along the river is just the right pace for getting the lay of the land. Sitting on the top deck of a ship under brilliant blue skies, you gaze on fabled landscapes dotted with castles, villages and vineyards. A flight of stairs down, and you have all the amenities of a modern hotel — restaurants, bars, lounges, fitness facilities, spas, internet access and comfortable staterooms.

Viking River Cruising in Europe - Viking Neptune on the OberweselRiver cruises offer opportunities to step ashore in fairy tale towns and fabled cities. Immerse yourself in contemporary culture, and learn something about the history of the towns along the Continent’s greatest rivers.

The season runs March through the end of December, beginning with Tulip Time Cruises in Benelux countries and ending with Christmas Market Cruises in Hungary, Austria, and Germany.

The majority of itineraries are seven nights, though longer cruises are available. Book one year in advance, if possible, and consider cruising March through May or September through December, when the crowds are thinner and airfares may be more reasonably priced than during peak periods.

River cruising is perfect for those who want a relaxed grand tour of Europe and for cruisers who want to explore Europe beyond the coastline. River cruising presents the grandeur and charm of Europe as well as the indelible landscapes that inspired Europe’s great artists. Few things in life can beat the views of Europe over the ripples of Continent’s rivers.

An Uplifting Experience
A series of 16 locks lifts river cruisers nearly 1,400 feet above sea level as they transit the Main-Danube Canal to cross the Swabian Alps, south of Nürnberg, and Europe’s Continental Divide.

Good To Know
Some river cruisers overnight in ports and cruise during the day; others cruise during the night and tie up in port during the day. Both approaches allow for dinners ashore and late-evening strolls into town.

Barging Is Not River Cruising! - How Barging and River Cruises Differ

Viking River Cruises - cruising Europe's rivers

Make no mistake. River cruises and barge cruises are completely different beasts.

Designed specifically to transit locks along the way, modern river cruisers are long and narrow, as are the locks themselves, which measure more than 600 feet long but are only about 40 feet wide.

Barges typically are smaller and with fewer frills and amenities than river cruisers. Whereas river cruisers may carry more than 100 passengers, barges range from a few passengers to few dozen.

What River Cruises Offer
The opening of the Main-Danube Canal in 1992 not only spawned the birth of river cruising as we know it today but also spawned the birth of the contemporary river cruise vessel. There are more than 100 river cruisers operating on Europe’s rivers. A “building boom” since 2000 has seen the introduction of more than 50 new ships.

Because of the canal and the locks, river cruisers are quite narrow, and this poses challenges for designers.

Though some river cruisers feature balcony staterooms, many retain the real estate that would be allocated for balconies to create more expansive interior space. Some river cruisers do feature balcony staterooms, where you can sit and watch the landscape pass, but take solace if your stateroom does not feature a balcony: Nearly all vessels feature a broad expanse of sun deck only a deck or two up.

The typical river cruiser design is four decks, including an upper sun deck, with two to three decks below it featuring a series of staterooms on each side of the ship. Staterooms typically feature a queen-sized bed that can be reconfigured to two single beds, television, storage space and a small, but often well-appointed, bathroom with shower and often no tub.

Public rooms typically include restaurant, lounge, spa and fitness center. While other features vary, some cruisers offer wireless internet access; bicycles for use on shore; whirlpool; sauna; and at least two river cruisers in operation today feature swimming pools.

River cruisers are essentially barges with an integrated hotel above and typically carry 100 or more passengers. Some river cruisers are (nearly) all-inclusive, meaning that wine and beer are served at lunch and dinner (one cruise line offers beer one morning of each cruise at breakfast), and some form of shore excursions, such as a guided city walk, are included.

Prices are competitively priced, and you should expect to pay from $200 per person per day to $400 per person per day depending on ship, itinerary and level of accommodations.

What Barge Cruises Offer
One of the big differences between river cruisers and barges is the amount of territory they cover. Barge cruises usually span six days and typically cover fewer than 50 miles of river a week, whereas river cruisers may cover few hundred. Transiting the locks can be time-consuming, and passengers often prefer to walk or bicycle along the canal’s banks (often outpacing the barge). Activities such as hot-air ballooning, horseback riding, guided tours, tennis and golf are offered, some for additional costs.

A barge usually cruises within one region of one country (usually France) whereas river cruisers can travel through several countries and on several rivers during the span of one sailing.

Barges typically have only one deck, smaller staterooms than riverboats and a combination dining room and lounge. Barge staterooms almost always feature private facilities.

Barges are usually all-inclusive, with drinks, fine wine and champagne, gourmet cuisine (using fresh, local ingredients and cooked to order), pick up and drop off from local airports, train stations and hotels, shore excursions and entrance fees included in the cruise fare. Bicycles are often available for use on shore. Some barges feature Jacuzzi, pool and exercise equipment.

Although barge cruises are offered in Belgium, Germany and Holland, France is the most popular destination.

Whereas you may think of river cruising as a floating hotel experience, barge cruising is more of a country manor house experience.

Though most barges are staffed, there are self-drive barges. Small groups, such as family or friends, may book the entire barge, or barges may be booked by individuals, preferably liked-minded people who don’t mind sharing space in a small setting.

Barge cruises can range from $350 per person per day to more than $1,000 per person per day. These are for six-day weeks, because one day is reserved to prepare the barge for the next group of people. Whole barges can be chartered from $15,000 to more than $50,000.

River Cruising Is Not For Everyone

Viking River Cruises - Melk Abbey

River cruisers and barges are evolving in such ways that it’s hard to imagine that anyone could be ill-suited for them. And with more than a hundred vessels in operation, the on-board ambience spans such a range that there are ships to suit most travel preferences and lifestyles.

Some vessels emphasize elegance; others emphasize a relaxed on-board (read: casual) lifestyle. Travelers can find river cruisers that rival Europe’s finest boutique hotels at one end of the spectrum while at the other, it’s possible to cruise Europe’s rivers much like an independent traveler who opts for basic accommodations and dining.

Still, river cruising is not for everyone. Non-smokers, in particular, beware. On some vessels smoking is allowed in public areas. And while smoking may be restricted to a particular area, such as to one section of the lounge, sensitive travelers still may be offended. Be sure to ask whether smoking is permitted on the ship — and if so, where. If smoking is permitted in the lounge, the social hub on many ships, you may want to consider looking at other river cruise companies or consider other forms of vacation.

Families traveling with infants or with small children may find river cruising to be less than ideal when compared to other forms of cruise travel. While ocean-going ships often have baby-sitting services and children’s programs, river cruisers typically do not. That said, barges are popular options for families, as the smaller vessels typically carry family-sized loads — from six to 24 passengers.

The physically challenged will want to look for vessels with easy access from ship to shore and elevators; not all river vessels feature them.

If you’re the type who dreads the thought of dining with others each evening, then river cruising may not be for you. Few, if any, river vessels offer room service, and even fewer offer alternative dining venues as on the big ships.

That said, some ships now feature tables for two. Also, you can choose to use the vessel only as a floating hotel, skipping the dinners on board and dining ashore instead.

Those who want to thoroughly absorb the cultural milieu of European cities may find river vessels restricting. After all, the vessels do have schedules to keep. If you’re occasionally spontaneous and could envision yourself wanting to stay a few unplanned extra nights in a city, you may find your ship sailing without you.

If you’re accustomed to ocean cruising and require all of the big-ship trappings, then you may find river cruising a bit boring. River cruisers are smaller and feature fewer facilities. Entertainment is on a much smaller scale, if it exists at all, on river cruisers. Shows may consist of nothing more than crew talent performances.

Single travelers often will pay higher fares if they choose to occupy a double cabin alone, unlike at hotels.

For the majority of people, however, river cruising will provide an exceptionally satisfying experience.

While barging is aimed primarily at small groups of like-minded people (often friends or families), increasingly river cruisers are seeking to appeal a wide range of interests. Some river vessels offer theme cruises, such as gardening, golf and history. Other river cruisers carry bicycles on board so that active travelers may cycle once ashore.

FAQ - River Cruise Questions

by Ralph Grizzle. An award-winning travel writer, and recognized cruise ship expert.

What is river cruising?
River cruising has been an increasingly popular form of leisure travel in recent years. River cruises are one-week or longer, overnight passenger cruises on vessels that range in size from a small four-passenger canal barge to the largest passenger river vessel afloat, the 396-passenger Victoria Jenna, which operates on the Yangtze River in China.

European river cruising takes place in what is, at maximum, a 38-foot-by-410-foot vessel, dimensions dictated by the locks and bridges that the vessels must past through and under. European river cruisers generally range from between 100 and 200 passengers.

Where do river cruises go?
River cruises travel along many of the major rivers in the world. In Europe, the Danube River is second in length only to the Volga River in Russia. The Danube is one of the most popular rivers to cruise along, and many river cruises include the Danube as part of their itinerary.

The Main, Rhine, Moselle, Elbe, Rhone, Saone and Seine are also popular rivers in Europe for river cruising.

Elsewhere in the world, the Amazon River in Peru and Brazil, the Nile River in Egypt, the Yangtze River in China and the Mekong River in Vietnam and Cambodia are also popular river cruise destinations.

How does barging and river cruising differ?
Barges typically are smaller and with fewer frills and amenities than river cruisers. Whereas river cruisers may carry more than 100 passengers, barges range from a few passengers to few dozen.

What amenities are there on river cruise ships?
Amenities vary, but standard on most river cruise ships are a restaurant, bar and lounge, library and sky deck.

Most river cruise ships have a fitness center with a few pieces of fitness equipment and possibly a sauna. There is often either a hair salon and/or a masseuse on board.

Some ships might have a whirlpool; others, like those on the Nile, almost always have a dipping pool on the top deck.

Increasingly in Europe, ships are adding elevators and smaller, alternative dining lounges at the aft of the ship. Outdoor grilling on the top deck is also becoming more popular on newer ships.

What are the cabins like?
In the past, river cruisers were defined by small cabins and twin beds, not an ideal choice for honeymooners. But cabins have improved tremendously in recent years. They are becoming more spacious and more like luxury ocean-going vessels, with comfortable beds and bedding, and well appointed bathrooms.

That said, there is often more limited storage space for luggage and clothing in cabins than there would be on luxury cruise ships. The cabins generally come outfitted with TVs, safes, bathrobes and slippers, desks and also increasingly more have sliding doors and French balconies. There are also higher numbers of larger suites being built on river cruise ships.

How do river cruises compare to luxury ocean cruises?
Luxury ocean cruises typically are defined by spacious staterooms, fine dining, an all-inclusive product, including beer, wine and spirits, gratuities and shore excursions on one luxury cruise line (Regent Seven Seas Cruises). River cruisers don’t quite match the luxury standards of ocean-going vessels, but river cruisers do come close.

Will there be a pool?
Not always. Some ships might have a whirlpool; others, like those on the Nile, almost always have a dipping pool on the top deck.

What is there to do on a river cruise?
River cruising consists of three main activities: dining, cruising and touring.

The majority of meals are served on board in the restaurant or in alternative dining areas like the smaller aft lounge or on the top deck. Sometimes meals will be at restaurants or other dining venues at various ports of call.

Cruising from one destination to the next often takes place at night while passengers are sleeping, but sometimes the cruises will also sail during the day, giving passengers an opportunity to relax or enjoy the scenery.

The main purpose for river cruising though, is to tour the various towns, cities and ports along the way. There is a fair amount of walking on river cruising during informative walking tours. There is often usually free time to roam the port towns as well.

Some river cruise ships in Europe carry bikes on board for people to ride into town or from one port to the next.

What is the food like?
The food on river cruise ships in Europe is generally very good. It is European-influenced cuisine.

Breakfast and lunch are usually buffet style. Breakfast usually consists of cereals, yogurt, fruit, pastries, egg dishes, meats, juices, tea and coffee.

At lunch there is often a salad bar, soups, several hot and cold dishes and desserts.

Dinners are generally three-course meals with table service. The cuisine often ties in the local dishes of the region passengers are sailing through.

What is the river cruising demographic? Who will I be cruising with?
River cruising appeals strongly to baby boomers and matures. That said, a wide range of people river cruise. Some river cruise companies have family-friendly sailings for people traveling with children. The introduction of bikes on board is also enticing younger cruisers. There is a wide range of nationalities on board, generally from English-speaking countries, including from the U.S., Canada, England, Ireland, Australia and New Zealand.

Is river cruising right for me?
River cruising is not for everyone. Non-smokers, in particular, beware.

What should I pack for a river cruise?
Pack as light as possible due to storage limitations in the cabins. Pack for variable weather, meaning layers, taking into consideration that even during warmer months river cruising can be windy during sailings. Pack comfortable shoes for walking. And pack for nicer occasions like concerts or performances on shore, or more formal dinners on board.

Is river cruising kid-friendly?
Some river cruise companies have family-friendly sailings for people traveling with children. But otherwise, not very. There is not much for younger children to do on board, in terms of games or activities.

Is there Internet on board?
Most river cruise ships in Europe either have wireless Internet access on board or are trying to get it installed. Be warned, connection can be spotty and is often not 100 percent reliable.