I’m Late…Late For A Very Important Date
Wednesday, July 15, 2015 This morning, as the hands of the clock struck ten, I embarked Viking River Cruises’ brand-new Viking Longship Vidar in the city of Cologne, Germany. For me, it’s Day 1 of my journey on this 15-day Grand European Tour that departed Amsterdam, Netherlands on Monday, but for the rest of the guests onboard, it’s Day 3. So why did I arrive three days late? Well, the benefit of being a travel writer is that you get to see the world. The downside is that you are subject to some very bizarre events. On my previous voyage – an exciting voyage through Arctic Svalbard which you can read about by clicking here – fog delayed our charter flight out of a remote place called Longyearbyen. By two days. That’s like having the Space Shuttle arrive late to rescue you from Mars. You’re that cut-off.
It turned into a spectacular adventure, and a real crowning achievement to our flawless voyage. But for me, it meant having to work ahead to reach Viking Vidar. And I learned a few things along the way:
- Double-check that the ship’s phone number is in your pre-cruise booklet. Mine wasn’t. If yours isn’t, call Viking and jot it down. It’s important to let the cruise line know you will be arriving late.
- Carry airline reservation phone numbers with you. My scheduled flights to Amsterdam with KLM were suddenly no good. No problem: I’ll call KLM and change it. Only I don’t have their number. It’s not on any of my E-ticket recipts – and Longyearbyen isn’t known for its snappy broadband internet service. Jot these down before you leave home.
- Have a backup plan. I didn’t – and it took a lot of time to research my options. For example: flying from Oslo to Cologne yesterday would have cost $956, plus hotel. Overnighting in Amsterdam and flying here this morning at 6:00a.m. went for $420 – plus hotel at €150. Vastly cheaper. Though I don’t think KLM feels as warm-and-fuzzy as I do: there were seven of us on the flight to Cologne this morning, on an 80-seater Fokker F70.
There were some more fun theatrics en-route. On my flight from Oslo to Amsterdam, the girl sitting next to me knocked her glass of red wine over, and it slid off her tray table and found a home soaking into my jeans. Normally, I’d just change jeans – but my luggage was checked through to Cologne. I wouldn’t see it in Amsterdam. Nor would I be able to extract a change of clothes from it. So I’d spent the next 24 hours smelling like cheap airline Merlot.
This morning, my cab driver from Cologne-Bonn International played the whole Nein-sprechen-ze-English game, which annoyed me, as it became very apparent he spoke wunderbar English. He looked at the address. “Zoobrucke?! You want to go to the Zoo Bridge?” Yes, I replied. I did. “Mein Schiff: Viking Vidar. Viking River Cruises.” Ahso!, he replied. And, by some miracle and €34 later, I arrived just as the sleek Viking Vidar was pulling up to her berth –underneath the so-called “Zoo Bridge.”
There’s something decidedly wonderful about boarding a Viking River Cruises Longship. Although minor changes and improvements have been made to each, to me it feels like coming home when I walk down that cabin corridor. It’s a feeling I only get from a few cruise lines, but the more I sail with Viking, the more I both love and appreciate it. Boarding a Viking Longship for the second, third or tenth time is like a warm embrace from an old friend. Why? It smells a certain way – a mixture of new ship, soft cleaning liquids and French-milled L’Occitane bath amenities. The Nordic-inspired textures and colour palettes are soothing. Everything from the placement of the power ports to the wine and spirits menu has been meticulously designed.
My home for the week is my favorite type of accommodation: the Category A Veranda Stateroom on Deck 3. Identical to the Category B Veranda on Deck 2 in all respects except physical location, these are some of the best-designed river cruise accommodations afloat. And for the first time, I can’t pick out any discernable changes! Viking has been constantly tweaking little things. You’ll notice the power ports on Viking Vidar are located at either end of the desk and vanity area (substantially improved since the design on the 2012 Viking Odin and her three direct sisters), and that additional ports and light switches are conveniently located next to either side of the bed.
Lighting in the stateroom is, again, fabulous: the main stateroom lights are on dimmers, and accent lighting located behind the bed can be turned on or off according to your preference. Two bedside lamps are manually-controlled, as are two small inset reading lights. Just push the light in and it will turn on, and can be adjusted to your specifications.
The bathroom still has everything I have always loved about it: heated floors. L’Occitane toiletries. An adjustable shower head. High-quality fixtures. Small details in the design may have changed over time (anyone ever snag their shirt real bad on the sink towel rack on Viking Odin and Viking Njord?), but the popular layout and amenities have remained the same.
Viking also provides complimentary bottled water in staterooms, along with complimentary wine, beer and spirits during lunch and dinner. The term free-flowing most definitely applies here; don’t expect waiters to give you the hard sell for the Silver Spirits package, or to limit your wine during this period.
Asthetically, Viking Vidar is a tour-de-force. If you’ve sailed with Viking River Cruises before, you’ll know what to expect. But the thing that gets me is how much I look forward to returning to this style of cruising. Sure, materials change. Carpets change. Textures, artwork, lighting – it all changes. But the general arrangement plans do not: if you have been on a Viking Longship before, you’ll find it’s easy to remember your way around!
The other thing that remains constant is the crew: they are friendly, accommodating, and mostly European. That means your bartender might know the best place to grab a beer in Bratislava. Or your head waiter might tell you about an off-the-beaten path spot that’s got an amazing bookstore. No one knows Europe like Europeans, after all!
The other thing I love: little touches. The music channels on the in-stateroom TV, which I always turn on and always have on throughout the day. Sometimes, river cruising is just better with a soundtrack! Then, there’s the high quality bed linens. The comfy pillows. The chairs in the lounge that are so relaxing that you (and your fellow guests) might fall asleep in them. The wonderful, soothing, Aquavit – a Norwegian spirit no doubt put onboard at the request of Viking founder and entrepreneur Torstein Hagen.
Hagen has been hitting the throttle on his river cruise empire since 2012. The first four Viking Longships were christened in Amsterdam in March of that year. Everyone thought Tor Hagen was nuts for building – and christening – four brand-new river cruise vessels at once. I still remember the first time I saw a Viking Longship. I’d already river cruised before on an excellent line, but when I stepped onboard Viking Odin, I knew Viking was going to be a hit.
The whole product gelled. There was a consistency there that was missing before from other river cruise products. Amenities that hadn’t existed, like the two massive Explorer’s Suites situated all the way at the stern. Viking took a gamble – and it paid off. And that’s good for the industry. You see, Viking does a lot of television advertising. It’s expensive. It’s time-consuming. And it’s horribly effective. So the remainder of the industry has no cause for complaint; after all, when Viking’s ships are full, prospective guests will look at other lines.
Years ago, Tor Hagen said Viking didn’t have to be “the best”. They just had to be “very good”, and be able to do so consistently. It’s not easy to launch 50 brand-new river cruise ships in the last three years. It’s even harder to keep your product consistent. Yet Viking has done just that – and my first few hours onboard have shown me that the level of quality I’ve come to expect of Viking has not subsided in the least.
Our Live Voyage Report from onboard Viking River Cruises’ Viking Vidar’s Grand European Tour continues tomorrow as we arrive in Koblenz, Germany and the Middle Rhine! Be sure to follow along with our adventures on Twitter @deckchairblog.