Arriving in Europe to begin a cruise, one might expect passengers to come from a variety of nationalities. We see people from all over the world on cruise ships that ply the waters of the Caribbean, coastal North America, Mexico and Hawaii. Alaska is no stranger to cruise travelers that represent multiple nations, as are itineraries focused on South America, Asia and elsewhere. But those are ocean cruises. This is a river cruise. More specifically, this is a Viking River Cruise that sources passengers mainly from the United States. Coming together today, less than 200 of them will sail for 15 days from Budapest to Amsterdam in what looks to be the voyage of a lifetime.
Regular readers know that Viking River Cruises is the fastest-growing river cruise line in the business. We’ve taken you to inaugural sailings of multiple ships the last two years as Vikings unprecedented growth continues. Launching 10 new longships this year, with 14 more for 2014, no other cruise line comes close.
Today we began to find out why.
That the focus of a river cruise is mainly off the ship is no surprise. We discovered and approved of that notion after a short two-night sailing of Viking Odin when the ship was first launched two years ago. Returning to begin Viking’s Grand European Tour today, we have an idea of how it will go. But our other sailings with Viking had been filled with travel agents and journalists, an entirely different crowd than those we met onboard today.
After arriving throughout the day, passengers were travel-weary. Still, it took Program Director Stein Dyb just minutes to congeal the group at a Welcome Briefing held just before dinner. Running through safety information and housekeeping notes with Hotel Manager Jorg Grossman, Stein quickly made it apparent that we were traveling with like-minded passengers who shared a lot in common. Shows of hands revealed all but a handful were Americans, most were on their first river cruise and quite a few had sailed in the ocean before.
Talking with some of them it was already apparent; this is a well-traveled bunch with enough miles both through travel and life to appreciate the intense itinerary we were about to embark on. But relating past travel experiences, as cruise travelers commonly do with others they might meet on other cruise lines, took on a different tone. Instead of comparing their experiences in numbers of cruises, days at sea or some such ‘who’s got the most’ way, it was all about sharing their experience with each other. That’s significant.
This is something we rarely see on other cruise lines but a quality that makes for some of the best experiences ever. Frankly, I can’t remember the itinerary of most cruises I have been on years ago. But I remember talking at length to a retired air traffic controller on a Seaborn cruise. I am still in contact with travelers met on a Carnival cruise over a decade ago. I share a love for Celebrity Century with a guy from California. I know a nice lady in Connecticut who counts looking forward to that next cruise as an effective tool in her fight against Cancer.
The significant part of all this is that this Viking longship, tiny in comparison to the ships I associated with those people, is the perfect vehicle to make some lifetime memories. I thought that but did not fully appreciate it until the travel agents and journalists were taken away, replaced by actual travelers. On the level playing field Viking has provided here, the possibilities are staggering.
Stay tuned as we 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, on dedicated Pinterest photo boards, Facebook, Twitter and a live HipGeo travel journal. Follow along on any or all of these social platforms, this is going to be good.