Later this week I leave for my annual trip to Europe to enjoy the holiday season and visit as many different Christmas markets as I can. This is my 5th festive sojourn to Europe around the holidays and it will also mark the 3rd time I’ve enjoyed the markets on a Viking River Cruise. I’m a big fan not just of Viking, but river cruising in general, so I thought I’d share a few reasons why I enjoy this travel style so very much. It’s not how I choose to travel every time I leave home, but I do think it’s a nice option and a fun way to shake up your travel habits.
A great feature of all cruises, be they ocean or river, is their inherent convenience. There is nothing better than staying in one spot for a week or longer, unpacking only once. In years past when I visited Europe during the holidays, I moved around, changing hotels and lugging my stuff with me through train stations and airports. While I don’t mind it per se, it gets old and annoying very fast. River cruising is fantastic because it’s a floating home for a week as you explore Europe. Most days I’m out and about enjoying whatever city we’re visiting that day, but even while the ship is moving I enjoy the experience. I love to grab a cup of hot cocoa, a couple of cookies and curl up somewhere on board to enjoy a book or just relax. That beats schlepping through busy train stations any day of the week.
Just as the ship provides certain conveniences onboard, that extends to the unique access to some of Europe’s most amazing cities and towns as well. The river cruise offers a level of travel access and convenience that would be very difficult to replicate through any other mode of transportation. More than just visit these cities though, I was deeply impressed by how thoroughly Viking helps bring the destinations to life through special onboard cultural activities and of course those famous (and incredibly in-depth) complimentary tours they offer at every stop. Another feature of river cruises that often gets overlooked is the unique point of view they offer. Seeing any destination in a different way is important to not just learn about it, but to notice things you’d never see otherwise. Sightseeing on the water is a personal favorite way to accomplish this and a river cruise in particular is ideal. Whether it’s seeing a new city waterside or admiring the countryside as you gently sail along the river, the views and experiences are spectacular and absolutely unique.
Flexibility and Independence
I remember on my first Viking River Cruise I met a couple around my age that held the same travel values as I do, namely independence. They confided to me that before the cruise they were nervous. They didn’t want to be treated like cattle and instead wanted to experience Europe like they normally do, by themselves. But they also wanted some of the luxuries that river cruises afford, which is why they were there. By the end of the trip they were converts and told me that the trip was one of their favorites. Funny, I felt the same way too, as did many other first time river cruisers I chatted with during the trip. Even though all of these people booked the trip, they were still fearful that it wouldn’t be independent enough, but we all were very wrong about that.
Not unlike ocean cruising, almost every day features a new stop, a new city to explore. Days start off with (on Viking) an optional and complimentary walking tour of the city followed by independent time. Once again, everything is optional. If you want to wander on your own all day that’s fine, if you don’t that’s fine too. Many stops tend to be in smaller to medium sized towns where a day is more than enough time to spend exploring. In larger cities like Budapest and Vienna, the ship many times stays docked for a longer period of time, acknowledging the fact that a few hours isn’t enough time for such massive cities. But no matter what, I have been able to explore these cities just as I would had I traveled there by car or train. Not once have I ever felt shorted on time and not once has my own unique travel style been hampered. If anything, the cruises allow me to see places I would not have traveled to on my own, and for that I am grateful.
Just Plain Fun
I’m a Type-A personality and when I plan a vacation I plan an active trip and while I’ve gotten better, my vacations can be exhausting. Sailing on a river cruise though means that I’m not in control of the schedule and the cruise lines are thankfully better at combining active travel with moments of relaxation than I am. I tend to fall into a certain rhythm when I’m on a river cruise and about midway I find myself relaxing for once and enjoying the journey in its own right. It’s wonderful not to stress out about logistics and that in turn provides me with the rare opportunity to just sit back, relax and bask in the moment.
Viking in particular has become a favorite of mine; I just click with them as a travel experience. For me, everything meshes perfectly and instead of feeling out of place or awkward, it’s like a homecoming whenever I board a new ship. I’m not alone in that feeling either. I talked with many guests, most of who have also sailed with Viking in the past. For them as well, everything from the onboard experiences to the new cities visited come together in a perfect combination and makes the travel experience something special. I can’t guarantee that same feeling for everyone, but I’ve seen it happen so many times that I know it’s not just my own personal feelings, but the feelings of thousands of others who have all made Viking their river cruise line of choice. Regardless of which line you choose though, I have no doubt that there is a river cruise experience out there for everyone.