The Rhine, The Danube, The Elbe, Rhone and Saone are just a few of the rivers in Europe. Rivers that transport goods and services to the many countries in Europe and home to what has become over the last few years a very booming industry – River Cruising.
This past April I had the opportunity to experience first hand, what I have been selling to my clients for several years. I went on a ten day round trip journey on the Rhine from Amsterdam on the Viking Magni, one of Viking’s longships.
River cruising is different than the ocean liners you are already familiar with. First of all, they have a capacity of approximately 190 guests. All cabins have either a window, a french balcony or a full balcony. There is one main restaurant for your meals, and then a smaller terrace for lighter continental style fare for breakfast and lunch. Wine and beer is included with lunch and dinner.
Because you are on the rivers of Europe which served in the past (and present) and the many mode for the transporting of goods and services, you dock close to the centre of most of the towns. In Amsterdam, for the first two days we were five minutes walk from the Central Station. We were a fifteen minute walk to the centre of Antwerp, and five minutes walk to the centre of Ghent. It allows the freedom during your port time to really explore and enjoy what each city has to offer.
River cruise life is very enriching for the guests. Shore excursions are included in each port of call, and in some there are also optional excursions that can be purchased on board. There are on board lectures about the ports visited, as well as local craftsmen, food and culture as well. My cruise was through the Netherlands and Belgium, and we had a Dutch folklore dancing group, a Dutch shoe carver, Belgium waffle demonstration, cheese and Dutch Gin (Jenever).
As with ocean cruising, food is a very important part of the river cruise experience. My experience on Viking did not disappoint. Breakfast and lunch had buffet options as well as a la carte menu items, and there were always many different options to choose from. I can honestly say that I never left the dining room hungry or feeling like I needed more. There were always so many wonderfully tasting options to choose from. Being in the Netherlands, our table usually opted to end our meal with a cheese plate, filled with local cheeses, dried fruits and compotes. It was a wonderful way to end the meal.
My cruise was called Tulips and Windmills. It started and ended in Amsterdam and during the cruise a few of the highlights were Antwerp, Bruges, Ghent, the UNESCO heritage site of the windmills called Kinderdijk and the finale of the cruise Keukenhof Gardens to view the tulips in full bloom.
One of the best parts about river cruising, is simply cruising along the rivers. Imagine sitting up on the sun deck, looking at the scenery on both sides of the river. On our cruise we saw many windmills, as well as many homes and small towns, and industries that rely on the river to move their products.
While I was one of the youngest passengers on this cruise, there is a wide range of clients that this type of trip would appeal to. Many of the guests (70 out of 190) were repeat guests of Viking River Cruises. Many of the people I spoke to had been on several river cruises, and not just with Viking. Many of them were already booked on their next cruise. These cruises can book up to 18 months in advance. Some of the itineraries, like the one I was on, only operate at a certain time of the year and for only a few sailing dates.
I may not get the chance to take another river cruise for many years to come, but I would cruise again, in a heartbeat.