Dining on Viking Mani takes place in either the main dining room (called The Restaurant) on the second deck or the Aquavit Terrace, a beautiful indoor/outdoor spot on the third deck. The main dining room is large enough to comfortably accommodate all 190 passengers if necessary, though most nights it's not at capacity because some passengers are eating in the Aquavit. Encapsulated by floor-to-ceiling windows on either side, the main dining room has plenty of light and great sight lines for watching the beautiful scenery. It's decorated with shades of blue and beige and done up in wood and marble accents. At night, tables are topped with white linens and fresh flowers.
Tables are set up for groups, accommodating four to eight passengers, and seating for all meals is open, meaning there are no seat assignments. Socializing with fellow passengers is a natural part of river cruising, and we found we dined with different people for most meals. Dinners tend to be leisurely, though not for lack of attention from the staff. Passengers just seem to prefer the slower pace while they talk about their days in port and compare experiences.
The Aquavit Terrace, on the other hand, is a more casual spot, where the views are perfect and the atmosphere is nice and low-key. The space features windows and glass doors, which can be opened when weather is mild. Diners can eat inside, or they can move outside, where there are nine tables. The venue is located all the way forward on the ship, and glass panes unobtrusively break the wind. Small heaters also provide warmth.
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Breakfast in the main dining room (generally served 7 a.m. to 9:30 a.m.) offers a buffet of standards, such as oatmeal, smoked salmon, toast, eggs and bacon. An egg station also is available for made-to-order omelets. You can order hot items -- pancakes, French toast and eggs Benedict -- off a menu; the waiters will also bring juice and coffee. The menu's selection is decent, and service is speedy to accommodate early-morning excursions. A lighter continental breakfast, offering fruit, yogurt, pastries and toast, is also available in the Aquavit Terrace (usually from 6:30 a.m. to 9:30 a.m.), and pastries and muffins are available from about 6 a.m. to 11 a.m. at one of the ship's two self-serve coffee bars. Skip the muffins, but give the pastries a try; they're the perfect size, flakey and not overly sweet.
After a long morning of sightseeing in port, most passengers opt for the more casual Aquavit Terrace for a buffet-style lunch. Lunch there generally starts at 12:30 p.m., and the line forms quickly. Options include small sandwiches, hot items like hot dogs or chicken and steak kebabs, homemade soups, a salad bar, fruits and dessert. Here's a tip: If you don't find something you like on the buffet, walk outside to the grill; most days, a chef will be manning it with some kind of fresh item like chicken wings or hamburgers.
Aquavit's soups are the real highlights, with creative options like a leek and potato cream and a delicious Dutch cheese soup, served over grapes and walnuts. The hot options were pretty good. The hot dogs (and crispy fries), served with sauerkraut, and the Buffalo wings were the big hits on our sailings. Sandwich offerings are mostly misses: dry and lacking flavor.
The more formal option for lunch at The Restaurant (also usually at 12:30 p.m.) generally replicates a number of items at the Aquavit Terrace, such as the soups and salad options. There, passengers can order from a menu that features pastas and sandwiches. If you aren't excited by the pasta selection on the menu, you can work with the chef to build your own. Soups are excellent there, too; our favorite of the cruise was the pumpkin soup, served with pumpkin seeds, pumpkin oil and cream (only available in the main dining room). It was autumn in a bowl, with the perfect balance of cream and crunch. Desserts are more intricate there than in the Aquavit Terrace, and if you get a chance, go for the banana split (with homemade banana ice cream). You can always grab cookies at lunchtime from the self-serve coffee stations; the soft and chewy oatmeal raisin ones are addictive.
Dinner in The Restaurant, which usually starts at 7 p.m., is a slightly more formal affair in that it's a full three-course meal. Passengers can pick from four starters, usually one salad, one soup, one cold option and one hot option. We found salads to be the best bet throughout. For entrees, passengers generally have three choices: one meat, one fish and one vegetarian. Dessert selections include one or two baked items like cobblers or tarts, ice cream (with fun flavors like walnut and almond), sorbet or fruit. And there's always a cheese plate available, which changes each night. Always-available choices include grilled salmon, charbroiled New York-cut steak and Caesar salad. Passengers who have special dietary restrictions can be accommodated with some notification. On our sailing, the maitre d' approached each table the first night to ask about dietary restrictions. House wine, beer, coffee, tea and soft drinks are complimentary at lunch and dinner. No room service is available.
Make sure to hit the Aquavit Terrace for dinner at least once during your cruise. The menu is simple, with only a handful of items, but what is available is really good. (Think bacon and mushroom burgers, brie quesadillas, deconstructed Caesar salads, Cobb salads and seafood pasta.)
Viking Cruises does full theme nights on its sailings, where crew dress up in costume, food reflects the region in which the boat is sailing and local entertainers are brought aboard. On our Rhine sailing, for example, we had a German night, with food that included weisswurst, Bavarian pretzels, sauerkraut and cured meats. Beer was a German-style Kolsch, and musicians performed traditional songs on an accordion and rolling organ. The event took place in the two dining spots, and the galley was opened as a buffet option, too. There, crewmembers served passengers, who got a glimpse of the behind-the-scenes kitchen operation.
Food options between meals are pretty limited; if you're looking for something beyond pastries or sweets, your best bet is to head to port and grab a local snack if you're docked. If you're sailing, you just might have to wait for cocktail hour in the lounge, which usually involves some kind of hors d'oeuvres served by waiters.