Examining the difference between ocean and river cruises on Viking River Cruises longship Viking Odin, we already knew some elements of the experience would be different. While the Viking ships are lovely, they offer little to big ocean ship fans accustomed to hot tubs, pools, top deck features and a myriad of entertainment and dining options.
Verified: this is true, for the most part.
But to leave it at that, saying big ships have it all and Viking longships don’t would be a bit unfair and not an accurate reflection of what we are finding. Some notable differences we have realized/discovered so far:
Limited Time In Port- Very much like an ocean cruise, river cruises pause briefly for a look at the destinations they visit. On one hand, that element could be considered a preview of the destination, tagging a place that we might want to return to some day and stay a while. On the other hand, travel via cruise ship can be pretty addictive; most likely producing the desire for another cruise as opposed to a land vacation. We suspect that offering a land vacation to a fan of river cruising would be much like offering a chocoholic some cotton candy: sweet but not nearly as satisfying.
The Viking River Cruises itineraries do appear to stay in port longer. In Vienna, Viking Odin was in port long enough for passengers to leave the ship for an evening concert and return before an 11PM departure. That Viking always schedules time on our own as part of the included tours works well too. There is something to be said for strolling aimlessly around any of the destinations we have visited.
Menu Variety- Look for diverse culinary opportunities whether on a river or in the ocean. On Viking River Cruises, like most ocean-going lines, there are standard everyday offering to fall back on if the daily menu does not appeal to you.
Unlike any ocean cruise I have ever been on, passengers were invited to join the ship’s Executive Ship for a run to the city market, something they do to supplement the ship’s supplies from time to time.
Beverages available all day- Coffee is available all the time. Alcoholic beverages and soft drinks are also available for purchase all day but wine, beer and soft drinks are included during meal times on a Viking cruise. On that topic, there is nothing we need our room key for except to open the cabin door. If we do purchase an optional excursion, beverages outside of the included times or something from the ship’s small gift shop, they take our cabin number, verbally.
Also available for those who want drinking to happen any time, is a Silver Spirit’s package that gets guests anything they want, any time. The $20 per person, per day package includes a broader selection of wines, cocktails, specialty beers, bottled water, juice and soft drinks, espresso drinks and more.
Destination focus- We already knew and have written about how the focus of a river cruise is off the ship. That’s a clear distinction between big ships in the ocean and little ships on the river.
But that destination focus extends farther than we anticipated. Menu items clearly designated as destination-specific, events on board, background information both pre-cruise and along the way and more add to the rich experience afforded by a river cruise.
Internet Is Still Not Like At Home- Travelers often inaccurately believe that river cruise ships source their Internet signal from land based sources they pass, hopping from one to another. Nope. The Internet signal used on the river comes from a satellite, just like ocean ships. Unlike ocean ships, going under bridges happens quite frequently with river ships, causing loss of signal.
Past Guest Cocktail Party- They have those too on Viking River Cruises but they do it a bit differently. Held all the way forward in the Aquavit terrace, just before the Program Director’s daily talk, past guests of the line are served champagne and snacks. The captain is there too, along with the ship’s hotel manager. Guests are thanked for being a part of Viking too. So far, very similar to big ship past-guest parties, then it goes in a different direction.
Explaining the history behind and sampling Aquavit, a Scandinavian distilled beverage, past guests join in a traditional “Skoal!” Viking toast. Later, those past guests return to their stateroom where they find a special aquavit glass, engraved with the Viking River Cruises logo and a note that explains the gift:
“The Viking Age marked both the discovery of new horizons and the dawn of new ideas, and in that spirit of adventure and travel we urge you to try some aquavit for yourself”
I suspect many do.
Stay tuned as we continue to work our way along the river from Budapest to Amsterdam on a 15-day Grand European Tour hosted by Viking River Cruises. As always, my words are my own and no expectation has been set by the cruise line for what you see here