PHOTO: The Rhine River is alive with all manner of watercraft, from the large luxury long boats of Viking Cruise lines and equally long barges toting everything from scrap metal to construction materials to youngsters in kayaks, small outboard motor boats, and even pontoons….. You’re never far from land along this narrow river.
I wrote this article for the Atlantic Highlands Herald, the Nations first official online newspaper back in 2015 when I took a River Cruise on the Rhine with Viking Cruise Lines
Just back from my second Viking Cruise, this may end up sounding like a paid advertisement for the company that does an incredible job both in cruising European rivers and customer service. It isn’t. It’s simply an account of the week fellow traveler Jane Frotton and I enjoyed aboard the Viking Sun, sailing from Amsterdam, Holland, to Basil Switzerland over eight spectacular days.
The Sun is different from the longboats Viking specializes in for most of its cruises, a bit smaller perhaps, with smaller cabins…though still big enough and most with great full wall sliding glass doors to let you breathe in the wonderful air, touch the side of the lock as you’re going through, or simply to say Hi to youngsters on the riverbank grinning and waving as you pass. The slightly larger longboats offer some cabins with verandas complete with table and chairs, but we quickly learned to live with the smaller cabin without a veranda. All come complete with private baths, big closets and drawer space, lots of little amenities, bottled water in the room, tvs, and beds high enough to let you shove your suitcase underneath and out of the way.
The Sun is about 400 feet or so long, with cabins on three decks, a dining room on the second, and a lounge and library on the third deck at opposite ends, with cabins in between. Up above, there’s the sun deck easily accessible to all, the wheelhouse and wings from which the captain operates the ship going through the locks. There were just under 190 travelers and a crew, from Captain Bartosz Balwierz to dishwasher, of 53…which works out to about just over three crew members per customer, an incredible ratio! It also means the waiter who serves you your cocktail in the lounge is the same one who serves your mushroom soup at dinner or helps carry the luggage off the boat. I never got to meet executive housekeeper Bilyanna Vancheva, but her standards are exceptionally high, given the excellence of her entire hard working and always pleasant housekeeping staff.
And you get to see and talk with them all, another great benefit of small ship cruising! They come from all over the world to work for Viking…. Bulgaria, Rumania, Hungary, Germany, Poland, the Philippines, South America, Portugal, Holland and more…and they’re all wonderful! They all speak far better English than I could muster in any of their languages, even with my three years of high school French…and they all know a lot about our country. Talking with some crew members from Portugal and Bulgaria late one night as they relaxed after their shift at the stern of the ship, they were delighted to hear I came from New Jersey….and eager to tell me of the greatest singer from here! To my surprise, it wasn’t Bruce! Or Frank! It was Bon Jovi and they asked if I could please tell him how much they love him and admire his style!