As with virtually every river cruise, the destination provides the entertainment, with excursions in port keeping everyone busy. With a Viking cruise, at least one excursion is included in every port, with optional excursions often available in spots where ships spend extended time. Included options tend to be of the bus-and-sightseeing variety, with visits to historic villages, churches and castles.
Viking-vetted local guides, who know the history of the area exceptionally well and speak English fluently, lead the tours. For these excursions, guides speak into QuietVox transmitters, and passengers listen in via earpieces connected to provided receivers. This system allows passengers to move at their own pace without missing out on what the guides have to say. Guides move at a good clip, but passengers on our cruise seemed to keep up just fine. For passengers who have mobility issues or those who just want a slower experience, a "leisurely paced" option often is available. These tours require less walking but still hit the highlights. Anyone interested in the slower group need to sign up for it the night before. Most passengers go on these excursions, but Viking splits the groups into more manageable sizes of around 30 to 40 people.
Optional tours, which are priced a la carte (generally between 30 and 60 euros), are a bit more interactive. Passengers might partake in a wine-tasting tour in Strasbourg or a pub crawl through Cologne's famous Brauhauses. Groups are much smaller -- more in the range of 20 to 40 people split into small groups -- and these excursions feels less like tours and more like visits with locals. Viking invests significant time into researching and selecting its tours, and it's really evident with its optional selections.
* May require additional fees
Nearly all of the onboard entertainment on Viking Mani takes place in the lounge, adjacent to the Aquavit Terrace, where there's a baby grand piano and a pianist who plays a variety of oldies and modern favorites at lunchtime, during the pre-dinner cocktail hour and after dinner for some dancing. The lounge has a large bar and enough seating to accommodate all the passengers on a sailing. Plush chairs and couches are arranged around small tables, making conversation with others easy (and necessary).
During the day, lectures cover topics like the European Union or Dutch culture. These usually are very good and well attended. Chefs hold cooking demonstrations a couple of times during the cruise, while bartenders show passengers how to make traditional regional drinks. The line also brings local artists and musicians onboard. On our cruise, a German glassblower gave a demonstration (and sold his wares), and a violinist and pianist provided a classical music concert, which passengers really enjoyed. One night, we also had a wild "music quiz" that got the competitive fires burning.
The entertainment options onboard are smartly planned, so they generally don't interfere with port visits and meals. Still, the ship is pretty quiet by 11 p.m.
Viking Mani is comfortable enough, but as with most riverboats, it's designed with the idea that passengers won't spend much time onboard during the day. The best spot during good weather is the sun deck, which spans the entire top deck of the ship. There, passengers will find plenty of mesh chairs, both the upright and the lounging variety, and oversized towels are provided, ostensibly for warmth. White awnings provide adequate shade for those who prefer to avoid the sun. The sun deck is the best spot for viewing the castles and cathedrals you'll inevitably pass while you cruise; even with a full ship, there's plenty of space, and it never feels crowded.
The sun deck also is home to a shuffleboard court, a small walking track and two putting greens for practicing your short game. There's also a beautiful herb garden, which chefs tend to daily so they can use fresh herbs in dishes.
The wheelhouse -- the ship's bridge -- sits atop the sun deck. Using hydraulics, the bridge can be raised or lowered as the boat goes through locks and under bridges. While a formal wheelhouse tour likely will be offered, passengers can visit the bridge any time, so long as the captain isn't engaged in difficult maneuvering, such as docking or piloting the boat through locks.
Indoors, public areas are limited. The main reception area is in the atrium on the second deck. Embarkation and disembarkation take place there. Passengers check in at the reception desk, picking up boarding cards that indicate they are ashore. When they return to the riverboat, they return the boarding cards so the crew knows they are onboard. Adjacent to the reception area is a small store, where passengers can buy logo items (things like fleece jackets and caps), jewelry and books. The ship's concierge, who works with passengers to accommodate special requests onshore (such as dinner reservations at a fancy local restaurant or spa appointments), also sets up nearby. A large wooden grand staircase connects the second deck to the third, though an elevator, which goes from the first deck to the third, is available as well. A large piece of art at the top the staircase reflects the ship's name: Viking Mani is named for the Norse moon god, who is always chased by a wolf. The painting depicts this, and smaller paintings throughout the ship reflect the theme too.
On the third deck, passengers can grab coffee, tea, water (still or bubbly), hot chocolate or pastries from one of two self-service coffee bars. The variety is good, and the oatmeal cookies found there are excellent. The ship's library, also on Deck 3, is stocked with a good selection of books, mostly related to travel and history of the region. Games, such as Scrabble and Trivial Pursuit, are also available. Passengers can hang out there in a small, comfortable reading area comprising two chairs, a small couch and a coffee table. Each day, a small "newspaper" rounds up the biggest news from around the world. Several versions are available, depending on your home; U.S. passengers can pick a paper geared toward Americans, while Canadians have a paper just for them. Two computers make up the Internet cafe. Wi-Fi is free for all passengers, though signals can be spotty, a common issue on all cruise ships. If you're using a computer or mobile device from your cabin, leaving the door open can get you a better signal.
Two small outdoor seating areas are located on the third deck, one port and the other starboard. Smoking is permitted on one side.
Viking Mani has a walking track on the sun deck; about 13 laps around equal one mile. Because the track sits directly above cabins, running is not encouraged. The ship has no spa, fitness center, pool or hot tub, nor does it offer bicycles onboard. Those looking to book active pursuits ashore can do so through the ship's concierge, who can arrange to have bike rentals brought shipside or map out a scenic jogging path. There's no fee for the concierge's services, though you will pay for the cost of the activity. As on most river cruises, the majority of passengers opt for exercising via daily shore tours that involve walking. According to our pedometer, we walked about 10,000 steps -- roughly five miles -- a day on excursions.
All Viking ships are geared toward adults, and the line requires passengers to be 18 to sail.