Stepping aboard Viking Skadi, you would never suspect it was one of the first in the company's series of Longships. Built in 2012, it still looks fresh and new. It is spotless--all the time--thanks to the attentive, caring crew.
Best of all is the immediate feeling of peace and tranquility. Frustrating, long lines are totally out of the picture. The decor is understated Scandinavian with earth tones, not brash colors or modern artwork that leaves you guessing. Instead, there are small pots of flowering plants in the atrium at the foot of the central staircase. Then there's the light streaming into the atrium lobby from two decks of floor-to-ceiling windows and the overhead skylight. Being able to look outside from all these angles is refreshing.
Anticipating your cruise should be a pleasure, and Viking excels here. It's one of the few lines that still mails out a welcome package containing a printed booklet about your trip and your destinations, leather luggage tags and a toiletry bag.
Onboard, the attention to detail and northern European efficiency continue. Little, unexpected treats might take the form of a talk on Dutch artists combined with a tasting of Dutch cheeses. When you return from your smoothly running shore tour, you may be greeted with a bite of a local sausage or warming beverage.
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The Viking Skadi's seven- to 18-night journeys travel on the Rhine, Main and Danube rivers stopping at ports in Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, Austria and Hungary. Itineraries such as the 14-night Amsterdam to Budapest Grand European Tour pass through 68 locks and under countless bridges. Here's where water levels of the river factor into your cruise. In Germany, for example, the route between Koblenz and Regensburg entails so many low bridges, the upper sun deck may be closed to passengers for a period of five or six days. At such times, the Aquavit Terrace and private balconies become prime outdoor areas for enjoying the views and fresh air.
Most passengers come from the U.S. or Canada with a few English-speaking Europeans in the mix. The majority are couples aged 60-plus checking out river cruising in Europe for the first time. If you're in your 40s, there's a good chance you'll be the youngest cruiser onboard. The minimum age to cruise is 12.
Comfortable, casual clothing is the norm for shore excursions and dinners onboard. Many passengers, especially women, dress up a bit for dinner. Men are asked to wear slacks and a collared shirt at dinner, though we never saw anyone turned away, even in shorts. Basically, you can wear the same outfit all day and into the evening. You will need comfortable shoes for tours, most being largely on foot. Tennis shoes do the trick, and a hiking stick might come in handy for navigating cobblestones or rustic castle ramparts.
In each port, a shore excursion of two to four hours is included. When Viking Skadi is docked away from the city center, shuttle buses are provided per a posted schedule for anyone wanting to stay in (or return to) town for lunch or individual exploration. Onboard, wine, beer and sodas are complimentary at lunch and dinner. Bottled water is replenished daily in the cabins and offered as you disembark for excursions. Wi-Fi is always free, and there are two computers for passenger use. If you book your flights through Viking, transfers between the airport and your riverboat are included.
Tips are not included in the cruise fare, except for passengers from Australia and New Zealand. Gratuities are paid at the end of the cruise in cash or by credit card. (Euros are the onboard currency, but dollars are also accepted for gratuities.) The recommended amount on Viking's Europe cruises is 12 euros per passenger, per day, which is divided up among the crew.