Welcome Aboard Viking River Cruises’ Viking Torgil!
Thursday, October 1, 2015
Today is an exciting day aboard Viking River Cruises’ Portugal’s River of Gold itinerary. Not only is it the first day of October, today is also the first day we get to see our home for the next seven days: the intimate Viking Torgil.
I’ll be openly honest: we’ve had a great day so far. Despite having to be up bright-and-early at the Hotel Tivoli Lisboa in Lisbon this morning (breakfast began at 6:30 a.m.), we enjoyed a pleasant two-hour coach ride through the Portuguese countryside en-route to Porto, Portugal, where we would join Viking Torgil on the other side of the Douro, in the town of Gaia.
After a “comfort stop” at a local truck stop to use the facilities and down a mid-morning Cappuccino, we continued on to the historic city of Coimbra for a stop at the University of Coimbra; an educational institution dating back to 1290 that was recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2013.
Our primary purpose for stopping here for an hour: to have the opportunity to explore the Joanine Library, which dates back to 1717. It’s unlike anything I’ve ever seen, and is more ornate than even the National Library in Vienna, or the magnificent library housed within the confines of Melk Abbey in Melk, Austria.
Sadly, as with most historic libraries, pictures are strictly forbidden, so I can’t show the library to you. But it is most certainly worth your time to explore the University and its grounds, and the library itself.
Viking provided lunch for us at a local restaurant just outside of Coimbra proper, at an unassuming venue situated across the street from a Midas Muffler location. Inside, however, was a beautiful restaurant adorned in modern décor and large black-and-white wall treatments of historic photographs of Portugal. We were treated to our choice of appetizer (soup or salad); our choice of entrée (fish or chicken – get the fish!), and our choice of dessert.
We also enjoyed a live Fado musical performance that was far and away better than the one we saw in Lisbon last evening. This is the Fado remember. This is the Fado I love. The three performers were top-notch. Our wait staff were top notch. The food – particularly the fish – was the best dish I have had here in Portugal up to this point. Everything about our day just clicked together.
After a few more hours of quality time in the motorcoach, we had arrived in the city of Gaia. Situated across the Douro River from Porto, nearly all river cruise vessels operating on the Douro tie up in Gaia, within view of Porto’s magnificent, stepped streets.
And then there she was: the small and intimate Viking Torgil.
I’d been aboard Viking Torgil’s sister-ship, Viking Hemming, back in March of 2014, when both vessels were christened in an absolutely spectacular pierside ceremony. While the risers and equipment may have been long dismantled, memories of that day still waft over me. And Viking Torgil is just as I had expected her to be.
Viking Hemming and Viking Torgil were both designed to emulate Viking’s immensely-popular Longship river cruise vessels that were first introduced on the rivers of Europe back in the spring of 2012. The good news is that they succeed: Viking Torgil and her sister both offer amenities that have become Viking trademarks, including real two-room suites; the forward-facing, outdoor Aquavit Terrace; L’Occitane bath amenities; impressive interactive entertainment systems; and the pleasing Scandinavian interior design that subtly adds to your river cruise experience without detracting from it.
But Viking Torgil and Viking Hemming have their differences. They carry just 106 guests as opposed to the Longship’s 190. They’re also noticeably smaller, clocking in at 262 feet in length instead of the 443 feet that a Viking Longship measures. But smaller is nearly always better, and there is a feeling of increased intimacy aboard the Viking Torgil that I really love.
So why not just position a “real” Viking Longship on the Douro? Well, there’s a number of reasons. The first has to do with physical size: the 262-foot long Viking Torgil is pretty much as big as it gets on the Douro, due to low bridges and stringent restrictions on physical dimensions due to the relatively small size of the locks that ships on the Douro must negotiate.
Building these two ships to replicate the look and feel of a Viking Longship was no easy task, however. In Portugal, a company called Douro Azul is the de-facto builder and operator of Dour river cruising. They provide and operate – at a minimum on the technical side, but quite often on the hotel side as well – ships for every major cruise line operating along the Douro, with the exception of Strasbourg-based CroisiEurope, and Australian river cruise line and tour operator Scenic, which has struck out on its own to create unique ships on the Douro.
With Viking, Douro Azul was the ideal partner. Douro Azul knows the region and the regulations here, which quite often favour Portuguese-based shipbuilders and suppliers over Viking’s standard river cruise shipbuilding partners, Neptun-Werft in Rostock, Germany. They also have a better handle on crewing, while Viking can dictate the requirements of the program managers and directors to ensure that the brand is adhered to.
Traditionally, Douro Azul had used a similar basic exterior design and general arrangement profile (how a ship’s interior spaces are laid out) for all of its river cruise clients, meaning that competing cruise lines (like AmaWaterways and Uniworld, for example) often had ships that were more similar than not, except for variations in interior décor.
Eager to see a smooth progression for past guests who had sailed aboard their Longship fleet, Viking persuaded Douro Azul to make several changes to their overall ship design, including the addition of the bow-mounted Aquavit Terrace; full floor-to-ceiling windows on Decks 2 and 3 (replacing the half-height windows typically found in the dining rooms on Deck 2 aboard most Douro Azul vessels), and getting the décor up to a level of quality that Viking’s guests would expect, with plenty of bright, Scandinavian influences.
My home aboard Viking Torgil for the next week is one of the ship’s Category AA Veranda Suites on Deck 2.
Clocking in at 302 square feet, these Veranda Suites perfectly embody the vision that Viking’s Chairman and founder, Torstein Hagen, had for the Viking Longships: true suites that feature two separate rooms; one for lounging, one for sleeping.
This is the first time I’ve been in a full suite on any Viking ship, and I have to admit to really enjoying this Category AA Veranda Suite. Fit-and-finish is exceptional, and the design and layout is very similar (if a touch smaller) to the ones found aboard the much-larger Viking Longships.
Aside from the two-room layout, the suite is filled with evidence that Viking is paying attention to what I’d call, “the little things.”
For example, there are more power outlets in the rooms than you’ll know what to do with, in both European and North American plug standards present. There are two massive 40-inch Samsung flat-panel televisions, two phones, two digital Siemens thermostats to regulate the temperature of each individual room; and even two balconies: a full, step-out balcony located adjacent to the living room, and a classic ‘French Balcony’ situated just off the main sleeping area.
The bathroom is larger than you might expect, with a glass-enclosed shower that features an adjustable wand or an overhead “rainforest” Grohe showerhead. The same L’Occitane bath products found throughout the other stateroom categories are present here, and robes and slippers are available upon request.
It is worth noting that, unlike the standard Viking Longships, these Category AA Suites are the largest level of accommodations found aboard Viking Hemming, Viking Torgil, and the forthcoming Viking Osfrid. The two massive Explorer’s Suites that are found at the aft end of the Viking Longships didn’t make the cut here due to space constraints.
Some images of this fabulous home-away-from-home:
Before we turn in for the night, let’s take a look at what this beautiful ship has offer guests on Portugal’s Douro River.
Tonight, we set sail on a lovely scenic cruise along the Douro, stopping just short of the mouth of the Atlantic Ocean before returning to berth on the Porto side of the river. Sailing under the city’s numerous, brightly-lit bridges is an experience you can only get by cruising the Douro – and it served as an excellent reminder to me of why, 80-some-odd voyages in, cruising is such a powerful experience.
Viking Torgil - Portugal's River of Gold
|Day 1||Lisbon, Portugal|
|Day 2||Lisbon, Portugal|
|Day 3||Porto, Portugal; Embarking Viking Torgil|
|Day 4||Porto, Portugal|
|Day 5||Regua, Portugal|
|Day 6||Castelo Rodrigo|
|Day 7||Salamanca, Spain|
|Day 8||Pinhao, Portugal|
|Day 9||Lamego, Portugal|
Our Live Voyage Report from onboard Viking River Cruises’ Viking Torgil continues tomorrow with a day of exploration along the Douro River! Be sure to follow along with our adventures on Twitter @deckchairblog.