“What are you, a 67-year old retiree?”
“Would you like me to get you a cane for your trip?”
“Are you sure your hips can handle this?”
Har-de-har. I hear ya. Yes, I am well aware that cruises have the reputation of being almost exclusively for seniors. But I would be a terrible travel blogger if I only listened to naysayers, now would I? I was genuinely curious to find out whether or not youngsters like me actually could enjoy a river cruise in Europe and all of what it entails.
My trip? The Danube Waltz and the Christmas markets.
The itinerary, ports of call, and excursions
I picked the Danube Waltz because I had barely seen that part of Europe – Hungary, Slovakia and most of Austria were all new to me. Also, I’m a sucker for Christmas markets so needless to say I didn’t need much convincing!
Side note: the weather was absolutely terrible, as it often is in December in Europe – and from what I gather, a common occurrence on the Danube in wintertime. But not ordering sunlight was pretty much Viking’s only oversight on this cruise ;-)
From the warm smiles of the Viking staff at the Budapest airport to the waiters who remembered what I liked to drink in the morning (a cappuccino and an orange juice, please and thank you), there wasn’t a single faux pas as far as customer service is concerned. Mieke, the program director, and Vanessa, the concierge, were always around to answer my questions, and the waiting staff was kind and friendly.
Ask the captain nicely and he just might let you sit in his chair for a bit!
Mind you – it wasn’t because I was a journalist and I had a special note in my file reminding the staff to be extra courteous to me. I asked around to experienced cruisers and observed thoroughly; my conclusion is that they behave that way with everyone. That’s the Viking way.
The size and demographics
With just 90 or so staterooms, these river cruises are intimate and on a human scale – which certainly contributes to the stellar customer service I mentioned earlier. Longships are not what I like to call a “shopping malls of the seas”; they’re smartly laid-out hotels, basically, and not gigantic and flashy entertainment centers.
It’s easy to connect with both the staff, which comes from all over Europe and all with a different story to tell, and with the guests that, contrary to popular belief, are not all retirees. I saw teenagers, young couples, multi-generation families, and yes, plenty of seniors, but not only. Another proof that river cruising can be for those under 60.
Staterooms vary in shapes, sizes, and prices, but I’d say they’re all very modern and ergonomically-balanced. Rooms are smaller than what you’d normally find in a hotel (although, by European standards, they’re quite similar!) but there is ample space to store your clothes, toiletries, and electronics – you can even fit cumbersome suitcases under the bed and keep as much clearing space as possible.
And, as opposed to regular cruise ships, Viking’s staterooms are all equipped with at worst, a giant wall-to-wall window, at best, a small terrace. No need to worry about getting a windowless room on these longships! Everyone gets a view.
This is how close the ships actually are to the cities visited
Sure, a pan-European trip sounds fun, but once you’ve done it once or twice you realise how tiring changing cities every few days actually is. Maybe I am 67 years old on the inside, but I ain’t got the energy to do that no more. This gal needs her eight hours of sleep! With a river cruise, you get to see a handful of destinations and yet you don’t have to repack your suitcase every night.
And, like demonstrated above, it’s nice to have the ship docked right smack in the heart of the cities visited. No need to worry about long bus rides between port and city centre; it’s just a few steps away. And on the rare occasion that it’s not (namely in Vienna and Salzburg), Viking arranges a bus service to take you to the attractions safely and quickly.
The on-board amenities
From shows to destination-oriented conferences, to gingerbread-making lessons to game nights, there is no such thing as being bored on these longships. There might not be any casinos or glitzy concert halls (all for the better, as I am not even remotely interested in those) on board, but entertainment is always around the corner nonetheless. I liked that the introvert in me could choose between spending alone time in my stateroom, in the quiet library, or in the lively lounge – it’s nice to have options!
Now, let’s be honest – there’s a reason why cruises were always associated with the elderly, seeing as they usually come at a rather steep cost. I don’t know many 20-something who can afford to drop 10K+ on a vacation! Although I didn’t pay actual money for this cruise because I was there upon Viking’s invitation, I know how much they cost and considering everything I mentioned above I sincerely believe that they are worth the price tag, which is somewhat reasonable (prices vary depending on the length and ship but prices start at $2300 for the Viking River Cruises Danube Waltz, for example). There are many inclusions in that price, and I feel that as a customer we get a lot in return of our payment.
I’ll expand on that later in another post about whether or not river cruises are for you, and why they are worth their price. Stay tuned!