Giving Cruising Another Chance with Viking River Cruises

It’s been a few years since I published the controversial article, “I Hate Cruises.” Since that time, I’ve been invited on several ocean cruises, all of which I’ve turned down. However, I did vow to give cruising another shot. In November, Viking River Cruises invited me aboard one of their long boats for the Portraits of Southern France cruise. I admit that the idea of seeing parts of the country I’ve never visited was incentive enough to agree. So, disregarding my love affair with all things French, what did I think of my first ever river cruise.

The Boat

Viking River Cruise France2

I was on the Delling, which is one of Viking’s newest boats and the aesthetics reflected that fact. The common areas were comfortable, welcoming, and always tidy. Little nooks were found throughout the boat for reading, or in my case, writing. I certainly didn’t miss having a pool or spa on board, instead taking advantage of the library, which contained a diverse selection of books reflecting the ship’s route. The dining areas were practical and neutral in design, allowing the scenery outside the massive windows to play the staring role.

Viking River Cruise France3

Viking River Cruise France1

My room was on the third floor with a terrace. I appreciated the efficient use of space, as I had a standard-size room. I’m not quite sure how close the quarters would feel with another person, but alone, I was comfortable. The bathroom was especially well organized, which is always a concern of mine. There’s nothing worse than having to contort one’s body just to get clean. I’d equate my accommodation to that of a four-star European standard hotel room. There was nothing extraordinary about it, but there also was absolutely nothing wrong with it either.

The Service

Viking River Cruise France12

I found the staff to be nothing short of exceptional. Names, faces, and preferences were remembered by day two, which is always a lovely touch. The bar and lounge staff deserve special kudos, as they went above and beyond to make me happy. Personable and accommodating, they were the utmost professionals. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the program director, hotel manager, executive chef, cabin steward, and concierge. I imagine that keeping a high level of enthusiasm, in addition to performing job duties week after week, is exhausting, but they, along with their team, did just that.

The Excursions

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As an independent traveler, I am not a fan of group tours and despise the masses following around a flag. Being swarmed like locusts by a pack of people trying to keep up with their shouting guide sends me into a tizzy.

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With that being said, I found the group excursions good. Because of the Quietvox that piped the guide’s voice into my ear, I didn’t miss a thing, but could also wander around and explore on my own without being glued to the group. As long as I could hear the voice in my ear, I knew I wouldn’t get lost or left. What did annoy me is that groups from other boats were also competing to see the same sights. There’s nothing Viking can do about that, but if I were on my own, I would avoid that situation like the plague.

Viking River Cruise France13

In each of the excursions, I feel like I got a Cliff’s Notes version of the history and culture. I was given a good introduction to places I’ve never been. And for a few of the places, it was all I needed, but for others, it fueled my fire to return on my own. All of the guides were local and knowledgeable, answering any question I had. My only complaint would be that I feel Viking needs to create an active group for the excursions. There is a leisurely group, but nothing for those wanting to do more than the average passenger.

The Food

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With two restaurants serving approximately 150 passengers three meals per day, I thought the food was fine. There was much thought put into matching the meals in the dining room with the region we were traveling through, along with French traditional dishes such as escargot and frog legs. I can certainly appreciate that, though it was not gourmet by any means. The dinner bar/lounge menu was full of American staples such as a burger and chef salad, along with quesadillas and shrimp pasta.

Viking River Cruise France11

Viking River Cruise France4

I feel that the food overall was geared toward the American palate, which were the majority of passengers on board. I don’t think the food showcased the outstanding beauty of French cuisine, but I understand that the chef must prepare meals that will appeal to a large group, rather than each individual. Given the volume of passengers and number of meals, I was good with the food. I don’t think it would please an epicure, but was a nice introduction to those who haven’t experienced French cuisine.

The Overall Impression

Viking River Cruise France8

It’s safe to say that I prefer this river cruise to the ocean cruises I’ve taken. The intimacy of the ship is no doubt one of the main reasons. I simply don’t enjoy being herded like cattle in and out of ports. The Viking River Cruise allowed a bit more leisurely time on my own. Since the rivers run through the middle of the cities, it’s convenient to get on and off the boat, exploring by foot.

Viking River Cruise France15

I think a Viking Cruise is good for couples, friends, or a multi-generational trip. There were only a few singles on board, including me. I didn’t find being alone the least bit an issue, but I’m outgoing and thus met many fun and friendly people during the week. I can see how taking a cruise alone could give anxiety for those who are a bit shy, however.

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I’d go on another Viking River Cruise and recommend it to those who want their travel to be as simple as possible. As a hotel hopper, being able to unpack and make myself at ‘home’ was a huge bonus. Viking really does take care of everything and thinks two steps ahead. I quite enjoyed not having to research transportation, restaurants, sites, or tours. It was a nice change of pace for this control freak. Overall, I enjoyed my week on the Viking Delling and am happy to have given cruising another chance.

I was a guest of Viking River Cruises, but in no way was my favor influenced by the endless wine at dinner, the picturesque French countryside, or the worry-free week aboard their ship. As always, opinions are mine.

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32 Comments
  • craig zabransky
    April 24, 2015

    Ah, second chances, you are still an American at heart… interesting you prefer the river cruise, but I am not sure I can believe the tide was turned slightly with the endless wine, especially if it was French wine.

    stay giving 2nd chances, Craig

    • Leah Walker
      May 22, 2015

      Yes, the French wine did help sway my opinion, I’m not gonna lie. 😉

  • Megan
    April 24, 2015

    I’ve been following along on FB and waiting to see what you think. I’m not a cruise fan, but we’ve entertained the idea of river cruising to the Christmas markets. Until we saw cruise ship passengers being herded through the streets of Strausbourg this year. Is it possible to cruise and then go off and do your own thing instead of going on an “excursion?” I like the idea of not unpacking every night and I love being on the water, but the tour group thing?

    • Leah Walker
      April 24, 2015

      You can absolutely go off on your own. You know when the ship arrives and leaves, so it’s easy to do as you please. Since most European cities are built around a river, your ship is at the doorstep of many points of interest. It’s pretty easy to get around by foot.

    • Leah Walker
      May 22, 2015

      Yes! You are not obligated to do any kind of organized cruise activities. By all means, go out on your own. I think cruising to Christmas markets would be a fantastic way to see several of them in a short amount of time. Let me know if you decide to do it.

  • Marc
    April 24, 2015

    It sounds interesting. I am not a cruise fan either but Its really tempting. I heard a lot about these type of cruises and I love your article. One day probably be tempting it. Thanks.

    • Leah Walker
      May 22, 2015

      Give it a shot! You won’t know until you try it for yourself. I’d totally go on another river cruise.

  • Dan Coffman
    April 24, 2015

    You are an excellent writer! Not sure if I would like being in small space. We are used to 220 sq ft. Glad you enjoyed your cruises your article was very informative.

    • Leah Walker
      May 22, 2015

      Thank you so much! As for space, you can get one of the suites, which is larger. 🙂

  • Valerie Citrano
    April 24, 2015

    My husband and I did Viking’s Romantic Danube cruise just a couple of weeks ago. We were disappointed in the cruise. Service and the food. The food was bland and we were hoping for more regional foods. There was only one dinner with regional foods and it was really bad. Burnt, dry bad! We felt the included tours were more geared for the older people. We are in our mid fifties so that’s saying a lot! Lol! Would have liked to have seen and done more. I was really looking forward to this trip too.

    We spent extra time in Budapest and went to Prague. We loved both places! I will definitely go back to the region, this year as a matter of fact to Germany, but not on a cruise! Independent travel is more to our liking. Glad you had a better experience 🙂

    • Leah Walker
      May 22, 2015

      I’m sorry to hear that your Danube cruise was disappointing. I’m glad you were able to spend extra time in Budapest and Prague, however. Those are two of my favorite European cities.

  • I’ve never done any type of cruise before but somehow the river cruises have always called out to me more. I’d previously been interested in a Danube cruise or a Nile river cruise. It is a shame to hear that the food wasn’t gourmet as such but like you say, I guess they are preparing to try and appeal to the majority of guests on board. I remember reading that article you had written about not liking cruises so it is interesting to see your comparisons from the two different experiences this time round 🙂

    • Leah Walker
      May 22, 2015

      As a traveler, I think it’s good to give both types of cruising a try. After all, you never know until you try. Just go into both with an open mind.

  • Liz Nichols
    April 25, 2015

    Well I have had experienced several ocean cruises. My favourite being sailing around The Greek Islands. We were on Celebritys Silhouette. I am a fussy traveller and to me that cruise deserves a 9 out of 10, everything was outstanding. We sailed Aqua Class which gave us lots of extras and our own restaurant .We did organize our own tours tho beforehand. To me the river ships are way too quiet re entertainment. We prefer a choice of restaurants and cafes. The river cruise food was bland and boring. Every and I mean every night they passed around a bowl of broccolli cauli and carrots under done. We hated the fact we had to have breakfast by a certain time to catch the bus tours. Very regimented. Then it was a mad rush at the end of the day to shower and get ready for dinner. All over by 8.30 and nothing happening in the lounge besides a guy playing the piano.. I really would like to know why you dont like ocean sailing,,,

    • Leah Walker
      May 22, 2015

      It’s hard to go wrong with the Greek Islands, and your cruise sounds wonderful. As for why I don’t like ocean sailing, check out the article linked in this one called, “I Hate Cruises.”

  • Sarah Lynn
    April 25, 2015

    I’ve never cruised before, and thankfully I read this article before “I Hate Cruises” so I’m still intrigued.
    My partner and I have been contemplating a short cruise of the Mediterranean or this exact River cruise and from the sounds of your article, it might be worth checking out.
    Thanks Leah.
    http://ww.wanderbeforewhat.com

    • Leah Walker
      May 22, 2015

      I hope you give it a try. Let me know what you think!

  • Sand In My Suitcase
    April 26, 2015

    Cruises come in all shapes and sizes, don’t they? We personally prefer the smaller ships – adventure and expedition cruises as well as river cruises. It’s a pity the food didn’t “wow” on your cruise. The food on our recent Belmond river cruise on the Irrawaddy River in Myanmar wowed us. Then again, it’s hard to compete with good French food ashore :-).

    • Leah Walker
      May 22, 2015

      I don’t think I’ll ever be a die-hard cruiser, but I was surprised at how much I enjoyed this river cruise. Since we weren’t covering a lot of miles, there was a good amount of time on shore. It made me feel a little bit more in control of my schedule, which is something I appreciate.

  • Pola (Jetting Around)
    April 26, 2015

    Not a cruise fan wither, but I always say that I’d do one in Alaska and one on European rivers. I’d give this one a try if it meant going to Arles and seeing Cafe de Nuit.

    • Leah Walker
      May 22, 2015

      Arles was one of my favorite stops. I will go back there, for sure.

  • Lola
    April 27, 2015

    Another non-cruiser here but was always curious about the smaller high end cruise lines like Viking and Windstar. I’m happy that my suspicions were true at least with Viking.

    • Leah Walker
      May 22, 2015

      With this particular cruise, you can do as much or as little as you’d like. There’s not much time actually cruising, so there is a lot of time to be in the cities. It really is like a floating hotel.

  • Happy to know you enjoyed this kind of cruise more than ocean cruises!

    • Leah Walker
      May 22, 2015

      So much more!

  • Traveling Ted
    April 29, 2015

    I have a tremendous love for rivers. I love rivers even more than I love fanny packs, so I think anyway I can get on one is a plus. Having beer available is another plus.

    • Leah Walker
      May 22, 2015

      This cruise is right up your alley, though I’m not sure if they’d let you canoe alongside the boat. It wouldn’t hurt to inquire, however.

  • Erin Marie
    May 3, 2015

    This seems like a very relaxing kind of cruise, looks so elegant too. I think I’d like to give this kind of cruise a chance. While I don’t hate all ocean cruises, you absolutely need to be in the right frame of mind for one.

    • Leah Walker
      May 22, 2015

      This cruise was perfect for me given the fact that I was two weeks out of my last surgery. It was relaxing and low key, something that I absolutely appreciated.

  • Jeremy B
    May 19, 2015

    You and I had this discussion years ago and were on the same page – neither of us liked ocean cruises for the same reasons. I don’t want to be stuck on a floating city and then herded around like cattle when I reached a destination. I was open to a river cruise and listed reasons why a river cruise was a better option. However, I still haven’t done one. It was interesting to read your experiences. I like the smaller size and independence when exploring. Like Ted, I like being in the cities rather than the ports.

    Seems your experience was better than river cruises. However, your impression is what I would expect mine to be. I still say no to cruises but would try a river cruise for my own experience. In the end, I still prefer the independent travel.

    • Leah Walker
      May 22, 2015

      With the river cruise, you have a lot more independence. Essentially, you’re only tied to the basic itinerary. You can easily do whatever you’d like until the boat leaves. I think you should give it a shot, even if it’s to satisfy your own curiosity.

  • Pamela Mains
    September 8, 2016

    I enjoyed your post and am happy you enjoyed your Viking cruise. I like to think of it as ‘taster’ cruising. There are definitely port destinations to return to for an extended visit. If you want gourmet food, upgrade to Uniworld River cruising. Everything on Uniworld is luxurious in every respect, but you do pay for what you get! Continued happy travels.

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