This past June, travel writer and photographer Karin Leperi cruised with Viking River Cruises on “The European Grand Tour.” Her journey on the Gefjon, courtesy of Viking, was a 15-day cruise that covered the best of Europe – from the stately elegance of Budapest to the windmills of Amsterdam.
The Viking Longship Gefjon was my traveling home for 15-days while I cruised the Danube, Rhine and Main rivers last year on Viking’s “Grand European Tour.” This is a bucket-list river cruise for any traveler wanting to see medieval castles, experience regional Germanic and Eastern European cuisine, and discover the classical musical delights of Vienna. Grand European Tour includes 12 guided tours and traverses 4 countries (Hungary, Austria, Germany and the Netherlands).
Each Viking longship is named after a Viking God or Goddess, and Gefjon follows suit. Gefjon honors the Norse Goddess of the Plow. After transforming her four sons into beasts of burden, she created the Danish island of Zealand after the ruler of Sweden offered her all the land she and four oxen could plow in a day and night. Built in 2015, Viking’s Gefjon is a contemporary longship registered in Germany. Part of the award-winning longship class of vessels, there are 4 decks with a crew of 50 and guest capacity of 190. This translates into 95 outside staterooms (25 Standard Staterooms, 22 French Balcony Staterooms, 39 Veranda Staterooms, 7 Veranda Suites and 2 Explorer Suites.)
The hybrid engines reduce vibrations, ensuring a smoother ride for guests and more pleasurable cruising experience. I didn’t need my motion sickness pills or wristband as the journey was extremely calm.
My assigned Veranda stateroom was room #323. Convenient, quiet and airy with European-style comfort are words that best describe my reaction. The overall stateroom size measures in at 205 square feet. Notably, it featured a river view with a floor-to-ceiling sliding glass door that opened to a balcony.
The bathroom was spacious when compared to other cruising experiences I’ve had. The heated bathroom floor and glass-enclosed shower also added to the expansiveness. Premium Freyja™ toiletries are provided.
Roomy closets and storage space, mini-refrigerators, along with amenities like 40” flat-screen Sony LCD TVs and complimentary movies On Demand are a real treat. Luxuriant robes and slippers are available upon request. Free Wi-Fi is provided but know that the connection and speed may vary depending upon where you are cruising.
Though I tend to travel light and oftentimes solo, guests still appreciate knowing that you can store your suitcases under the bed. Bottled water is provided daily as well twice-daily housekeeping.
The Ship Decks
If you have ever cruised on a longship with Viking River Cruises before, you will be familiar with the ship layout as they are very similar from ship to ship.
The Restaurant, Reception Desk and Gift Shop are located on Deck 2. The restaurant is where you head for fine dining. Expect regional specialties and contemporary cuisine.
Deck 3 is where you find the Aquavit Terrace & Lounge, a place for casual al fresco dining with buffet-style grills. The Viking Lounge & Bar are also located here. Get to know it because this is where enrichments, cooking demos and gathering for shore excursions takes place. A small library is also centrally located on this deck.
Deck 4 is called the Sun Deck. This is where you go for panoramic views and shaded sitting areas. You can also find a putting green, walking track, organic herb garden and solar panels. Most importantly, this is where the ship’s wheelhouse can be found.
If I can pass on just one piece of advice for river cruise guests, it would be to get to know your ship’s crew and staff. Look for the bulletin board about mid-deck on the 2nd level. Here you can acquaint yourself with the titles and photos of the Viking people who help make your cruise pleasurable, comfortable and memorable. Be sure to introduce yourself and greet them during your two weeks.
Captain Marcel Stephan proved to be a favorite with the ladies and was more than delighted to share the workings of the Wheelhouse with guests. (The group of singles I ended up socializing with during the trip easily voted him as Best-Looking River Captain on the Rhine by all the single ladies.) Check out his photo and you will see why.
The Hotel Manager is usually the first person I try to meet when on a cruise. For this journey, the extremely capable and effervescent Krisztina Bencze-Sandor proved indispensable for me in ways that were definitely outside her job description. An unexpected emergency condition required me to check in with ER at several stops in Germany. Each time Krisztina facilitated a taxi and directions for my untimely detour. She was professional, extremely helpful and very kind. I’m hoping our paths cross again. The Program Director is indispensable on any cruise, so it behooves you to get to know that person. On my Grand European itinerary, the knowledgeable Wesley Woodcock wore that title. This is an individual who has the apex of people skills, and I would say that Program Director Wes was an apex on that apex.
And since I love fine-dining and tasting regional specialties wherever I go in the world, it was a natural I wanted to meet Executive Chef Jan Blanar. His professional chef skill set is legendary: His dishes are flavorful, creative and artful.
Plus, he is the first chef I have met that is extremely funny. I should add that when German doctors restricted me to a bland diet, Chef Blanar went out of his way to whip me up customized dishes of mashed potatoes and whatever other limited choices I had, which were not too many. Kudos to Chef Blanar and his team for being so flexible even though they have a grueling schedule.
Though I have singled out Viking individuals above, it doesn’t negate the wonderful assistance and interactions I had with others. They notably are Housekeeper Paul Rusu, Maitre D’ Claudiu Pana and Guest Services Zuzana Uhliarova.
The takeaway from this review is that it is a combination of the ship, the crew and staff as well as the excursions that will guarantee your bucketlist trip is meaningful, experiential and unforgettable. Viking River Cruises is always up to the task. For my Grand European Tour, this was a Viking dream team.
Text and photos by Karin Leperi