Food has received an update throughout the Viking River Cruises line, and on Viking Hild we noticed quality and menu options, as well as the standard of the included wine and beer, had significantly improved since a Longship experience five years prior. While it's not what we'd consider a "foodie" experience and doesn't have as much regional focus as you might expect, Viking Hild's dining offered plenty of dishes that used fresh and interesting ingredients, as well as familiar staples such as prime rib, chicken and salmon. Diners seemed to find something they enjoyed for every course and we heard few complaints about the food itself.
All dining on Viking Hild is complimentary, with open seating and no reservations required. Vegetarian options are available at every meal and marked on the menu; chefs can also accommodate gluten-free diets and other allergies (passengers are encouraged to note issues online with My Viking Journey before the trip).
Restaurant (Main Deck): Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, the Restaurant is the ship's main dining venue. It's open and airy, continuing the Nordic theme, with tables for six or eight.
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Breakfast start times can vary, depending on when excursions begin, but it normally runs between 7 a.m. and 9:30 a.m. It's served buffet style, although you can order hot items such as eggs Benedict from your waiter, who also serves coffee and juices. There's an omelet station, breakfast meats, scrambled eggs, potato hash browns, waffles, fruit, smoked meats and cheeses, pastries and breads (including gluten-free), baked beans and tomatoes for British passengers, oatmeal and muesli and more. Two exceptional items include three types of smoked fish and gravlax that chefs will cut to order, as well as a fresh honeycomb (don't miss having a piece of this with some of the sweet raisin rolls).
Lunch normally runs between noon and 2 p.m. It's also a buffet, with hot items available to order. Look for salad offerings, as well as appetizer specials like fresh sushi and antipasti. At least one soup, such as potato leek, is served daily. Entree choices might include a pasta such as spaghetti vongole cooked to order, orange and soy-marinated grilled pork tenderloin and a grilled prosciutto and fontina focaccia sandwich. There's a choice of desserts, such as a passion fruit coconut mousse or poached pear with ice cream and chocolate.
Dinner usually begins at 7:30 p.m. It's four courses, although you can mix and match as you wish. A typical meal would have three appetizer choices, such as lime-marinated poached shrimp with avocado tartare, crisp tandoori chicken with Parmesan foam or three-bean salad. A soup, such as bouillabaisse, is served nightly. Three entree choices are featured, with at least one fish and one vegetarian meal offered. Options might include veal tenderloin with Parmesan jus, wild Pacific swordfish with caper brown butter and a spinach-feta dumpling. Caesar salad, as well as three entrees -- Chairman Tor Hagen's favorite dish, poached Norwegian salmon with pickled cucumber and boiled potato, chicken breast in barbecue sauce with mashed potato and prime rib steak with fries and herb chimichurri -- are available anytime.
Dessert has several choices, which could include a Valrhona chocolate tart, an apple crumble cake, ice cream with a choice of sauces, sorbet and a fruit plate. A cheese plate is also available every night.
During Restaurant dinners on our sailing, we noticed pacing issues with the wait staff and kitchen, with long gaps appearing between courses and some meats not cooked as we had ordered. Our cruise took place just after Viking Hild's christening, however, and we expect these issues to be ironed out. We were also surprised to see fewer locally inspired dishes on the menu than in the past. Beginning in 2017, Viking River Cruises and Viking Ocean Cruises now share the same culinary director and menu items from the ocean ships are being brought to the rivers. While this is good news for quality -- we always felt dining on the rivers wasn't as expert as you'd find on the oceans -- it might be bad news for originality.
One area that has also noticeably improved is the complimentary wines, poured liberally at lunch and dinner. Here the line has maintained its emphasis on local, with the libations reflecting the area where the ship is sailing. On a Rhine cruise, that means dry Rieslings and soft pinot noirs from Germany for most of the trip, although the choices do change every night. Viking also doesn't charge a corkage fee for bringing wine or beer onboard and you can bring it to dinner; this is a great way to enjoy the results of a winery visit!
Aquavit Terrace (Upper Deck): One of the Longships' signature spaces, the Aquavit Terrace is a glass-enclosed room at the fore of the ship. It's the perfect place for light buffet breakfasts, lunches and dinners, particularly during nice weather when the walls come down and you can sit outside at tables near the bow (conversely, if it's chilly, Aquavit Terrace seating extends into the Viking Bar). It's also a nice place to eat if you are traveling with a partner or friend, and don't want to sit at a larger table in the Restaurant.
The Terrace opens for light breakfast at 6:30 a.m. and runs until 11 a.m. The offerings are meant to be continental, focusing on pastries, cereals, breads, cheese and meats. If you want something from downstairs, however, like an omelet, wait staff is happy to get it for you.
Lunches in Aquavit have more options that you'd expect from an alternative venue. The buffet has a green salad, as well as a creamy salad such as seafood or potato. There's usually a carving station and sandwich offerings, such as hamburgers or chicken. When it's nice out, the ship sets up an outdoor barbecue to grill fish or meat. Here again, the wait staff is happy to get you something off the menu downstairs, should you have a craving.
Dinner in the Aquavit Terrace begins at 7:30 p.m. and runs for two hours. It has most of the same items that you'd see on the "always available" menu downstairs in the Restaurant. Hagen's favorite poached Norwegian salmon shows up again, as does the prime rib and barbecue chicken breast. There's usually at least one additional daily special.
Coffee Stations (Upper Deck): Spacious coffee stations are located on each side of the entrance to the Viking Bar. The machine does a decent cafe au lait and cappuccino; oddly, espresso on its own isn't offered. The station also has teas, as well as cookies and pastries.
Room Service: Breakfast is the only room service option on Viking Hild and it's only available to passengers in the Explorer Suites.