Once again, I have gone to sleep too early and awakened around midnight. I lay there on the couch trying to get back to sleep, remembering that I did not do my entry for today yet. I started thinking back over the trip and thinking of all the wonderful things about it, and the few things I wish were better and I decided to do a wrap up.
First of all, I think it would be difficult to travel with anybody but Viking. We have been so spoiled on all three of our trips. The crew takes care of literally everything from the time you land in the country until they leave you at the airline counter to return to your own country.
I love being welcomed aboard ship with a hot (or cool) towel, a cup of hot chocolate, a glass of juice or some other little surprise. You are made to feel special from the very beginning.
All the wait staff, in the dining room and in the lounge, make an effort to learn who you are and what your preferences were. I think Walt's eggs benedict order was placed the minute our waiter Milos saw him walk into the dining room.
(We sat at the table almost to the very back of the room)
The variety of food was very good and at breakfast and lunch, you could order your meal from your waiter, or you could go to the buffet...or both (get pancakes or eggs benedict from the waiter and sausage, fruit, and cereal from the buffet).
The Viking Freya is one of I think four "long boats" added to Viking's fleet this year. It was a lovely boat, but sometimes it seemed a long "longer" than I wanted to handle, as we were in the second to last cabin.
Viking offered a variety of educational and entertainment opportunities, from the wonderful concert in Vienna to the apple strudel demonstration on the ship and everything in between. There was a nice balance of fun and "lecture," like Henrietta's costumed lecture on Mozart, a talk on the waterway through which we were traveling, and a very user-friendly lecture on the European union. I overheard a woman from Texas talking about our evening of light operatic music, saying "I don't usually listen to music like that, but I thought it was real purdy."
My complaints about Viking are so few as to be laughable. My principal complaint was that while there is always someone, lunch or dinner, with a bottle of red and a bottle of white wine in hand ready to refill a glass the instant the level starts to look low, there is less attention paid to those of us who prefer water and it was a constant struggle at each meal to get a second glass of water. I got testy one day and ordered a beer and grumbled to our waiter that it was easier to get a beer than a glass of water. An indication of how much Viking cares about its passengers was that after that, they really seemed to be trying to keep my water glass filled. One waiter (Vess) seemed to always be at my elbow saying "I know you like to drink water." I appreciated his attention. Another waitress (Rose) saw me sitting alone at the Taste of Germany lunch and made a special effort to come and ask me if I needed any water. I almost felt guilty for being so grumpy before.
I also was disappointed in the in-room entertainment. While you don't take a cruise like this to watch TV or movies, the video system was terrible. Sometimes you couldn't get any station, sometimes you would choose one station and another one would be the only option. Often the picture froze. When it was working, it was very good, but ultimately during alone-times in the room, I would read instead.
The biggest video disappointment was not being able to watch the Olympics opening ceremonies, which we had been promised we could do in the lounge. After a long time, they finally got the video working, but could never get the sound. I was surprised that they had not tested it out ahead of time. One guy stood for about 10 minutes at the screen, with a remote in hand just looking at it, as if trying to figure out what else to try. I was wishing my son, the video guru, had been along for the evening!
This trip was quite different from Russia and China. In Russia we were seeing it from the "back side," meaning that almost every place we visited was tiny and unique and not a place you would be likely to drive to if you visited the country. In China, we spent as much time flying as sailing and stayed in hotels as much (if not more) than we stayed on the ship, so we were seeing it from a different perspective.
On this cruise, we were sailing on the rivers and visiting the old parts of major cities (like Vienna and Cologne). There was always the sense of wanting more. Not nearly enough time in Vienna, for example. But I looked on this cruise as kind of a catalog of neat places to see with the idea to go back on our own later for a more leisurely time. I enjoyed the actual sailing part as much as the land excursions.
In China we had the same guide from the time we arrived in Shanghai until we left Hong Kong. On this cruise we had a different guide for every excursion. Some were great (especially Erwen in Cologne), most kept a pace that I could follow. The only time I was left in the dust was at Kinderdijk where the guide was so far ahead of me within minutes that there was no way I could hope to catch up, but it was the kind of place where one could drop out and explore independently.
We have become very spoiled. Viking takes such good care of us and offers such a variety of experiences that it's almost scary to think about going with another company. We are running out of places to tour with Viking but there are still at least three other tours that I would like to take...by then we'll probably be too old to cruise anyway!