Arrival onboard Viking Baldur – In Style
Aaron Saunders, Live Voyage Reports
It was beginning to look a lot like Christmas when I stepped out the door this morning in preparation to flying to Europe to board Viking Rivers’ Viking Baldur for a weeklong Christmas Markets cruise up the Rhine.
It’s been a week of below-average temperatures in my homebase of Vancouver, Canada that culminated this morning with a thin blanket of lightly-falling snow. The East Coast and the Prairie provinces may laugh at us (as well they should), but even a centimetre or two of the white stuff is all things need to grind to a halt here on the ‘Wet Coast.’
We’re just not used to seeing snow.
I was feeling very festive by the time I reached Vancouver International Airport, and it wasn’t just because of the weather. Today, I had the good fortunate to be the occupant of seat 7D on my Lufthansa flight to Frankfurt, in the airline’s Business Class cabin. And if you’ve ever been seated there before, you’ll know that’s as good as an early Christmas.
With a seat pitch of between 57 and 60 inches and 20 inches of width, even the jolly old man in red himself would likely approve of my business class seat on Lufthansa’s Airbus A340-600. It reclines nearly fully-flat and offers a massage feature, not to mention a programmable memory where you can store your preferred seating positions. Personally, I found the three pre-programmed modes (seated / reclining / sleeping) were more than adequate.
Besides the luxuriant knowledge that comes with knowing you won’t have to battle for the overhead bin space – and that you might get some shut-eye – your choice of water, orange juice or champagne awaits you upon boarding. The cabin crew hang your coat for you, and the glasses are picked up before push-back and taxi.
The airline is in the process of completely replacing their existing long-haul Business Class seating with an entirely new seat and cabin configuration. The new seat lies completely flat to create a sleeping surface that is nearly 2 metres long – perfect for any height. It also functions as a reclining seat, or one that can be used as a traditional, fully-upright seat for travellers (like me) who are always looking to get a bit of work done on their flight.
Lufthansa may not have asked me personally what I’d like in a Business Class seat, but they did ask 500 of their most frequent fliers back in 2007 what they’d put on their ultimate wish-list, and the airline used that as a starting point from which to build their new product; a process that would take approximately three years from start to final concept.
Even then, Lufthansa “road-tested” the new seat in 2010 on flights between Frankfurt and New York City. Tweaks were made on a nearly-constant basis during the course of the trial to everything from the position of the seat and its controls to the new inflight entertainment setup that features a 15-inch screen as opposed to the former 10.4-inch variety.
One of the most pronounced changes the company made with their new Business Class seat was to position it in a ‘V’-shape, with neighbouring seats angled together near the feet, but positioned away from each other at the shoulder level. This was done to give passengers greater privacy, while still orienting passengers in the forward-facing position as opposed to the rear-facing seating employed by some airlines (which, incidentally, LH customers were quite vocal about not wanting the airline to adopt.)
Even though my particular A340-600, D-AIHB, hasn’t been updated as of yet, the airline’s existing Business product has seats that are immensely comfortable (and which almost lie fully-flat), not to mention larger entertainment systems, a menu with specially-crafted selections that changes frequently, Sennheiser noise-cancelling headphones…what’s not to like about that?
Of course, if you have a Business Class ticket, you can access any Star Alliance lounge, which meant I got to enjoy some quality time relaxing in the Air Canada Maple Leaf Lounge in the International Departures terminal at YVR. Air Canada has three lounges at YVR, with the other two being located on the Domestic and Transborder (U.S.) sides of the airport.
Not only that, but I was able to make quick use of one of the Lufthansa Business Lounges at Frankfurt Airport. If you’re flying Business (or have Star Alliance Gold status), these great lounges are yours for the taking. There’s hot food, cold food, all the drinks you could want, and comfortable, spacious seating in a relaxed atmosphere.
Today, both the lounge access and Business Class seat came in handy. Owing to the winter weather in Vancouver, our departure was delayed by almost 90 minutes due to the need to de-ice before takeoff. But that’s out of Lufthansa’s control; in fact, in the five times I’ve flown with them to Frankfurt so far this year aboard LH 493, this is the first flight that’s been over five minutes late arriving. If you’re going to have to be delayed, being delayed while seated in Business is far more enjoyable!
I did like that Lufthansa took the liberty to re-book passengers in all classes who missed their connecting flights, providing them with information on their new connections over the public address. My flight Lufthansa CityLine to Basel had a four-hour window built into it, so I was fine when that was truncated down to two.
I arrived in Basel just before two in the afternoon and once my luggage appeared on the belt at Basel-Mulhouse airport, I was onboard the group transportation arranged by Viking, destined for the lovely Viking Baldur.
Check-in could not have been easier: I simply presented myself at the front desk, and Victoria checked me in. Total elapsed time: a minute – if that.
As it is the first day for guests here onboard the Viking Baldur, not much is going on aside from dinner and drinks in the Viking Lounge. So I want to use this time to better acquaint you with the Viking Baldur, and some of her subtle but substantial differences from her predecessors.
To start with, the former atrium design featuring glass and subtle marble surfaces has returned aboard Viking Baldur, which was just launched this past summer, and I personally feel this is the best combination yet. The stairs are finished with wood-style surfacing and seem wider than previously, particularly on the staircase leading down to the ship’s Lower Deck.
In my Category A Veranda Stateroom, numerous little changes have been made: the Sony BRAVIA televisions feature a slimmer frame; the vanity/desk no longer curves in toward the wall nearest the balcony; and bathrooms have been completely redesigned with new countertops, shelving, and flooring that features a polished wood look instead of the grey slate tiles aboard her previous Viking Longship sisters.
Thankfully, the heated floor controls are still there!
What else has changed? Corridor carpeting is unique to Viking Baldur, and the lighting and furniture in The Lounge is almost entirely unique to Viking Baldur.
Though I didn’t get a photo of it tonight, the Restaurant looks stunning, and features partitions to better reduce the noise level in the room. It can still get quite loud, but it’s an improvement over the previous design.
A look around the gorgeous Viking Balur:
Tonight, we are sailing silently along the Rhine. Somewhere in the darkness, our first port of call beckons. Tomorrow, we will discover Breisach and Germany’s legendary Black Forest in the morning, with an afternoon of free time to enjoy at our leisure.
Our Rhine Christmas voyage has officially begun!
Viking Baldur Rhine Getaway
|December 10, 2013||Basel, Switzerland||Arrive Basel and embark VIKING BALDUR|
|December 11||Breisach, Germany||Black Forest scenery tour with clock-making demonstration; optional vineyard tour or Colmar excursion|
|December 12||Strasbourg, France||Walking tour featuring Strasbourg Cathedral; afternoon at leisure.|
|December 13||Heidelberg / Speyer, Germany||Half-day tour featuring Heidelberg Castle / Evening at leisure to enjoy cobbled streets & Speyer Cathedral.|
|December 14||Braubach / Koblenz, Germany||Marksburg Castle excursion; free time along the Drosselgasse.|
|December 15||Cologne, Germany||Walking tour & Gothic Cathedral visit; free time to visit a local brewery and sample some Kolsch.|
|December 16||Kinderdijk, Netherlands||Tour Kinderdijk Windmills, a UNESCO World Heritage Site|
|December 17, 2013||Amsterdam, Netherlands||Disembark VIKING BALDUR & onward journey.|