Viking River Cruise From A Rookie’s Point Of View

Never had I ever taken a cruise of any kind until a few months ago when we embarked on a Viking River Cruise along the lovely Rhîne, boarding in Amsterdam and disembarking in Basel, Switzerland.

The VIking Hlin

Over the years, my lack of enthusiasm for a cruise would more accurately be characterized as a lack of enthusiasm for travel on a giant cruise ship in the middle of an ocean.

First, I am sun-averse so days spent on the Lido Deck perfecting my tan would be completely wasted on this fair-skinned gal. Also, my extreme claustrophobia, oddly, makes me develop a case of the vapors just thinking about being out to sea without a speck of land in sight. Maybe “reverse-claustrophobia”?

But a river cruise? That I could handle. Worst case scenario, I could swim to shore, right? This comforting, if a bit delusional, thought allowed me to throw caution to the wind and make my reservation.

Also, I knew I’d have a wicked case of FOMO (fear of missing out) if I didn’t join with the rest of our group of college pals on this trip.

THE SHIP

Our Viking River Cruise ship, The Hlin, has capacity for about 190 guests and 50 crew members on four decks.

On top is the sun deck offering lounge chairs and tables, a walking track, shuffleboard court and putting green. Fortunately, the sun deck also has canopies which provide the shade some of us require. On the upper and middle decks, the ship has a small library, a restaurant and a lounge containing a bar, buffet area, and outdoor seating section.

Viking Hlin at dock

Our room was on the middle deck – a “Veranda B” stateroom. For perspective, the middle deck is where the gangway meets the ship in the photo above.

Measuring about 205 square feet, the room was not big but certainly comfortable with plenty of space to unpack and store suitcases out of sight. We had a small veranda (room for 2 chairs and a cocktail table). While we spent very little time on the veranda, we loved being able to open the sliding glass door and step into the fresh air.

In general, the design vibe of the Viking River Cruise ship is clean, simple and beautiful. Every inch of the ship feels calm and comfortable. Quite Zen.

THE FOOD

Chef Arezina and his staff prepared fabulous meals and snacks for us. At each meal, guests can choose from the menu in the restaurant or dine on lighter buffet fare in the lounge. The meals, afternoon snacks, and demonstrations highlight local foods and traditions.

dinner in the restaurant

Maître d’ Ivan greeted all guests with a smile and guided his staff as they made meal service seem effortless – quite a feat!

Meals include house wine (quite good!), beer, and soft drinks.  For an extra price, Viking offers the Silver Spirits Program which allows for unlimited soft drinks, wine, beer, and cocktails including local beers, fine wines, and brand-name liquors. These same upscale drinks are available for purchase individually.

We are not cocktail drinkers so, even though tempted by the opportunity to try a greater selection of wines and factoring in an occasional night-cap of Bailey’s on the rocks, we did the math and decided to skip the Silver Spirits Package.

By the way, Viking allows guests to bring bottles of wine on the ship. Waiters will happily serve this wine for you without a corkage fee.

A special shout-out to our waiters Rudy and Jimmy for taking such good care of us and making every meal a memorable experience!

Rudy and Jimmy

EXCURSIONS

One excursion is included in the itinerary for each day. Additional, optional excursions can be added for a modest price.

The included excursions are tailored to give guests a feel for the port location. Each tour is led by a local guide. Viking equips all guests with a listening device which makes it possible for guides to speak in a conversational tone. Guests don’t have to elbow their way into position near the guide in order to hear what is being said.

As our included excursions, we enjoyed walking tours of Cologne, Heidelburg, and Strasbourg, a trip through the Black Forest, a visit to Marksburg Castle and a tour of the spectacular windmills of Kinderdijk.

Windmills at Kinderdijk

Our Program Director, Daniel, made certain that all guests were safe, comfortable and in the right group. And, while I’m sure he often felt as though he was herding cats, he never got flustered and never wavered from his cheery disposition.

The choice of optional excursions included a visit to the Mercedes Benz Factory, an evening of beer tasting in Cologne, wine tasting and dinner at Eberbach Monastery (which OBVIOUSLY we signed up for) and many more.

Our absolute, number one favorite excursion of the trip was “Colmar in World War II: Museum & Memorial”. This optional excursion was created and led by a local man named Malcolm who has a passion for World War II history and a true gift for making the story of what happened in the Colmar Pocket come alive.

Audie Murphy Memorial

Maybe you’ve heard of Audie Murphy, the 19-year-old soldier who single-handedly fought back an entire company of German soldiers? Well, you have never heard the story told as Malcolm does. It is something you will never forget and this excursion is not to be missed!

THE REST OF THE EXPERIENCE

When we weren’t off on excursions, we spent time on the sun deck playing cards, trying our hand at shuffleboard, and taking in the scenery along the way.

Relaxing on the Deck

The weather cleared for our beautiful afternoon of sailing amid the castles of the Middle Rhîne River.

Middle Rhine

Captain Ivan and his crew expertly guided the ship along the river through lock after lock, graciously invited guests to check out the Wheelhouse and answered all of our (possibly annoying) questions.

The entire staff was incredible. Led by Hotel Manager Armin, each member of the staff and crew were professional, kind, helpful, charming – truly A+. The level of customer service we experienced on the Viking River Cruise was exemplary.

Every member of our traveling group loved the trip. We felt that it was an excellent value for the dollar and we are ready to sign up for another voyage!

Now that I’ve shared the nuts and bolts of the Viking River Cruise, next time I’ll give you our thoughts on what we did right and ways we will make our future trips even better.

Here’s a teaser: the very best thing we did as we started to plan this trip was to reach out to our incredible travel agent, Sandy Grodsky of SG Travel Advisors. Sandy guided us through the entire process providing sage advice and saving us from making some rookie mistakes. Sandy’s blog, You May Be Wandering, features amazing travel ideas and breathtakingly beautiful photos. Check it out!


FYI, I have received no compensation from Viking, although I would happily entertain and readily accept such an offer. Just sayin’…


Thanks for stopping by!

 

 

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Air Travel Etiquette

I love to travel but it can be stressful. Air travel, in particular, can be fraught with challenges. But, if we all follow a few dos and don’ts of air travel etiquette, we can peacefully coexist while hurtling through the air at 30,000 feet.

Air Travel Etiquette

Do know the TSA rules: Liquids in 3-ounce or smaller containers all packed into one quart sized zipper bag and placed on the conveyor belt. Computer out of your bag and on the belt. Shoes and coat off; nothing in your pockets.

Don’t steal all of the bins and bowls. Being considerate in the security line means sharing and not dawdling.

TSA Precheck

Transportation Security Administration

Do consider signing up for TSA PreCheck. At $85 for five years, it’s a pretty good deal. And, you can keep all of your goodies in your bag and your shoes on your feet.

Do feel free to pack concisely into the allowed number and size of carry-on luggage.

Don’t think that anyone is amused by you carrying on a suitcase and a backpack and a giant purse and a giant shopping bag and a bag full of magazines and snacks and a banjo.

Each of us is allowed one carry-on bag and one small personal item. This means you, too, Barbie.

Mocadeaux - Carry-on luggage etiquette

Do take advantage of the loophole that airlines provide which allows passengers to avoid a checked bag fee.

If your suitcase is small enough to meet the carry-on standards, you can “gate check” your bag with the agents at your gate for free. This is a good idea if you just don’t want to be bothered stowing your bag in the overhead bin, are in one of the later boarding groups or have legendarily poor arm strength like me.

Do line up and board the aircraft with your assigned boarding group. Please have your boarding pass out and available for scanning or have your mobile boarding pass pulled up on your telephone and the screen lit up.

Don’t hold up the boarding process by standing in the aisle unloading every last item you think you might want for the flight before stashing your bag in the overhead bin.

Do be compassionate toward your fellow passengers. If asked by a frantic mom or dad if you can switch seats so that their family can be seated together, consider doing so. In my opinion, this act of kindness brings more good karma than almost anything else.

Mocadeaux - Bank of Karma

Don’t fall asleep on other passengers. My shoulders are reserved for my loved ones and not for perfect strangers who keep nodding off and slumping over toward me in my seat. (Seriously, guy in 11B? How many times do I have to elbow you in the ribs before you get the message?)

Do peruse the menu of “buy on board” food and drink items so that you are ready to order when the flight attendants reach your row.

Don’t order wine in a can. Trust me on this one.

Wine in a can

Do remember to use headphones while listening to music or movies. Just as you have the right to listen to heavy metal music or to watch Mad Max Fury Road, I have the right peaceful quiet.

Don’t judge your seatmates for the in-flight entertainment they choose to watch. Just because someone streams hours of Real Housewives on a coast to coast flight, doesn’t mean that they don’t also watch hours of the History Channel at home.

Do strike up a conversation with your seat mate if the spirit moves you. Take the opportunity to meet new people and hear their stories.

Don’t make a nuisance of yourself. If your seatmate pretends that they are completely engrossed in their reading, are asleep or don’t speak English, it might be a subtle hint that they are not interested in chatting.

And finally, when you have reached your destination…

Do retrieve your carry-on luggage as quickly as possible without trampling your fellow passengers and exit the airplane in an orderly manner.

Don’t do what these flight attendants did. It is rude, will likely get you arrested and will cost you thousands of dollars in fines. A high price to pay to be the first one off of the plane.

By the way, the reenactment animation in this video is priceless.

What are your pet peeves about flying? What would you add to the air travel etiquette dos and don’ts?

Wishing you all happy and safe travels, always!

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The Three Best Things You Can Do For Your Children

Some time ago I was having dinner with my daughter, son-in-law and their friend, Kristen. I’m not sure how we got on the subject of children. Kristen is not a mom and this was well before Annie and Jerry found out they were having a baby. Perhaps we were talking about my son and daughter-in-law and what amazing parents they are to the now two-year old twins.

The very wise Kristen said, “I think the three most important things you can do for your children is to read to them, travel with them and love them.”

Those words have really stuck with me.

Read, travel, love

Having had such excellent role models in our own parents., I think (and hope) that Peter and I did a pretty good job following this with our kids.

We read to them.

Books have always been a big part of our family’s life. We made frequent trips to the local library, bought stacks of books at the annual book fair and were always the first to return our Scholastic Books order form.

Recently my son, responding to a Facebook meme listing his favorite books of all time, noted his love for the Encyclopedia Brown series. He said he was quite certain that there was a worn spot on the rug in the children’s section of our library where he remembers sitting for hours reading about the boy sleuth’s adventures. As his parent, I must say that warmed my heart.

At Annie’s baby showers, guests were asked to include a book with their gift instead of a card. This idea has been around for a while and I think it is brilliant. What a remarkable way to start a family’s library of children’s books!

Of course reading goes beyond books. We read newspapers, magazines, road signs – pretty much anything with printed words.

We regularly watched Wheel of Fortune as a family. Don’t laugh. Pat and Vanna provide a great tool for kids to learn to spell. And teach kids the difference between consonants and vowels.

Encouraging both reading and writing shows our kids the importance of words and language in our everyday lives.

We traveled with them.

Ok, so lots of our trips were to Disney World but still.

There is so much to be learned by traveling. Learning about new places and people, new foods and new customs. Learning to plan, read maps, pack a suitcase, make good choices with one’s souvenir allowance.

While books expand our imagination, travel expands our world view through experiences.

But travel doesn’t just mean expensive or lavish vacations.

Travel can include local experiences like a trip to the zoo or a hike in the woods. It can mean a picnic at the beach or day spent at the county fair. It can be a special occasion dinner at a “fancy restaurant” where best manners are required.

Travel, to me, means any experience that takes us outside of our own little world and opens our eyes to new people, places and ideas.

We loved them.

And always will.

Loving our children often means hugs and kisses, sweet words and “I love you”s. Of course it also means setting down ground rules to clearly identify expectations. And it means letting our kids work through decision making, using those boundaries as a safety net as they learn how to navigate the world.

As parents we show our love by protecting our children from harm, trusting and respecting them, encouraging them to become their own true selves, supporting them, guiding them and eventually letting them go to live their own lives and follow their own dreams.

I always say that we work so hard to teach our children to become independent than darn if they don’t just go off and become independent. But that’s ok. We do our job so they can do theirs.

And now that we are blessed with grandchildren, Peter and I have the wonderful opportunity to share these gifts with our next generation.

The best things you can do for your children AND your grandchildren?

Read to them, travel with them and love them.

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