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River Cruising: A Different Kind of "European Getaway"

by Nicole Pensiero | CNBNewsnet


Sailing through the scenic Wachau Valley (Photo by Nicole Pensiero)


Like many first-time river cruisers, I wasn't quite sure what to expect from my first experience on a European Viking river cruise. Based on what I'd heard from others, I expected it to be good. Just how good, I couldn't have predicted.

Our seven-night, five-country excursion down the Danube River this spring ended up being an off-the-scale fantastic experience. While river cruising proved ideal for me and my traveling companion, anyone expecting something akin to an ocean cruise -- especially one with a "party vibe" -- will be surprised by the differences between river and ocean cruising. Here are some things to consider:

  • Compared to ocean cruise liners, river cruise ships are relatively small.  We had 190 passengers on our Viking longship, the Egil.  (There were 50 crew members on board as well). Between the relatively small number of passengers and communal dining, there's a good chance you'll get to know plenty of people on the ship -- whether you plan to or not. We loved the sense of community, but if you're not a social person, the togetherness might be a bit of a challenge.
  • The ride is incredibly smooth. Aside from sensing some movement when we passed through the 11 locks along the Danube -- and a day sail through Austria's scenic Wachau Valley -- we never even felt like we were on a ship! But believe me, we were moving along at quite a pace much of the time. All this is great news for travelers prone to seasickness as it's a non-issue on a river cruise.
  • The focus during a river cruise is on cultural enrichment and daytime exploration. There were many included shore excursions on our trip; even one to a UNESCO World Heritage site in the Czech Republic that took 90 minutes by bus to reach. They were all terrific learning experiences, but required us to "rise and shine" relatively early. Evenings were for relaxing, not partying (though we certainly celebrated with our complimentary cocktails when we sailed into stunning Budapest at night!
    Beautiful Budapest from the Danube River (photo by Nicole Pensiero)
  • The vibe on the ship is incredibly relaxing. We loved the clean, modern decor and many places to relax while traveling from place to place, including a small library, a sun deck and an open-air deck at the front of the ship also used for buffet breakfasts and lunches.
  • River Cruising is pretty much geared toward adults. It makes perfect sense, when you take into account the focus on cultural enrichment -- and there's not much that would appeal to kids onboard anyway, like a game arcade or a swimming pool. (Note, there's no casino, either).
  • Viking Cruises include beer and wine with lunch and dinner with your trip packager; an add-on premium beverage package is also offered.
  • Each Viking ship has a round-the-clock coffee bar, which is great for early morning or late night visits; there was always a yummy bakery item offered there as well. 
  • River Cruising allows you to see a lot of things in a short time: We visited five countries in less than a week, but never felt rushed. At each stop, we had an included walking/bus tour, as well as some free time to explore.
  • There's no pressure to do the included side-trips, which makes river cruising ideal for folks who don't have the stamina or interest in leaving the ship whenever it docks. (Along with included side trips, there are additional optional side trips, too. We especially loved the evening Mozart concert in Vienna and our afternoon relaxing at a pre-World War II thermal spa in Budapest).
  • River Cruising makes for memories that last a lifetime. I still think about our trip, almost daily, because it was that fantastic. We've kept in touch with some of the people we met onboard and talk about our next Viking adventure -- they have cruises running year-round, around the world -- from Russia to China to Egypt. It's an adventure I highly recommend!

 For more information about Viking Cruises, visit

Nicole Pensiero is a South Jersey resident and a member of the North American Travel Journalists Association.