Viking Cruises Celebrating 25 Years of Luxury River & Ocean Travel
Have you heard the polished British accents on television commercials for Viking Cruises, or seen the gorgeous video of the sleek river and ocean ships? If your tastes involve nature shows, PBS documentaries, Metropolitan Opera streams and such, you probably have.
Viking Cruises calls itself “the thinking person’s cruise” and, indeed, it caters to and attracts the type of travelers who are aficionados of such cultured entertainment.
In 2022, Viking was voted both the Best River Line and the Best Ocean Line by Condé Nast Traveler in the publication’s Readers’ Choice Awards. It was also named No. 1 for both river and ocean cruises by Travel + Leisure, making it the only line to reach the top of its categories in both publications in the same year.
I must admit that before I had experienced Viking, I had been on one (enormous!) cruise ship and it was not to my liking. Now, I am a Viking fan, and I have had the pleasure of traveling on six Viking voyages in the line’s three categories: River, Ocean and Expedition.
At the orientation of our first cruise a few years ago was on Portugal’s Douro River, return guests were asked for a show of hands—and impressively, nearly everyone’s hand was raised.
Celebrating 25 years in river and ocean cruising—traveling to 88 countries and all seven continents, with more than 500,000 guests annually—Viking distinguishes itself from other cruise lines by what it does not offer: casinos, inside (windowless) staterooms, cruises for children under 18 and, amusingly, umbrella drinks.
Viking lives up to its “Exploring the World in Comfort” slogan with understated elegance. Appealing to a sophisticated “empty nester” age group, mostly from the United States and the United Kingdom, its trips are for those who love exploration, education, relaxation and beautiful scenery, as well as stimulating conversation, gourmet cuisine and Scandinavian-designed, well-appointed cabins.
It’s not just the big things with Viking that people enjoy. It is the small touches, too: The hot washcloths handed to passengers returning from excursions. The bookmarks, placed beside personal books in the staterooms. The public restrooms with discreet birdsong playing in the background. The baristas who remember how one likes their coffee. The almost 2 to 1 passenger-to-employee- ratio.
We still keep in touch with some folks we met on cruises; with such small passenger counts (a maximum of 930, even on the ocean voyages), it is likely that you would run into fellow travelers over and over and develop relationships. The temporary closeness a small cruise brings to its passengers is special and makes the vacation a much richer experience.
Red and white house wine, as well as local beer, are included with the outstanding cuisine at meals, and there are always at least three main entree choices. Viking is meticulous about accommodating special diets, and the waitstaff is extremely solicitous. Fresh fruit and vegetables are abundant at every meal, desserts are delectable (as they should be), and lunch always features an inviting salad array as well as hot entrees.
Local specialties are offered when en route to different countries. For example, on the Douro River cruise, we enjoyed Portuguese dishes such as francesinha sandwiches, charcoal-grilled sardine salad and bacalhao prepared in various ways, as well as a special Spanish dinner of paella, crema catalana and gambas al ajillo. Those who prefer simpler items such as Beef Wellington, poached salmon or barbecued chicken won’t be disappointed, as there are many options.
In 2022 the company launched eight new Viking Longships on European rivers, new purpose-built vessels for the Nile, Mekong and Mississippi rivers, and two new ocean ships. Viking now has more than 60 river ships and seven ocean vessels in its fleet, along with two state-of-the-art, polar-class expedition ships, designed for adventure and exploration in Antarctica, South America and the Great Lakes. The ships are essentially floating research facilities with internal submarine storage marinas.
When I asked a fellow passenger who had taken numerous Viking cruises to name her favorite part of her trips, she replied, “It’s really everything; the ship itself, the food, the drinks, the staff, the staterooms, the music, the lectures. It is such a complete experience!”
Irene Middleman Thomas is a Denver-based writer whose zest for new experiences and exploration continues unabated.