PHOTO: Viking River Cruises' Viking Hild shines bright. (photos by Jason Leppert)
Viking River Cruises
At a Glance
By the Numbers
• Lifestyle: Premium
• Launched: 2017
• Passengers: 190
• Crew: 50
Take a Bow (What to Like)
Pain in the Aft (What to Dislike)
• Comfortably Efficient Use of Riverboat Space
• Fantastic Service from Friendly Crew
• Great Onboard Food When Available
• Few Onboard Activities and Entertainment
• Smaller Showers Than Ocean Equivalents
• Not Much Dining Outside Meal Times
Who Should Book
• Destination-centric travelers who appreciate an outstanding inclusive value.
Who Should Skip
• River cruisers requiring a spa, butler and room service.
Viking River Cruises first introduced its Viking Longships design back in 2012 and has since launched 48 of them. They were so successful from the very start that little has changed year after year, and the pair of 2017 models continue the tradition of excellence in design.
Of the two, we had the opportunity to sail on the Viking Hild. Architecturally, the Hild may look peculiar with its blunt bow, but its exterior appearance is a very deliberate choice in order to maximize the riverboat's interior. By eliminating a pointed front, the al fresco Aquavit Terrace (pictured below) can be drawn more forward for extra usable passenger space and additional cabins.
Meanwhile, the inside is open and airy. Floor-to-ceiling windows and an expansive atrium with a skylight above allow plenty of natural illumination. The Scandinavian decor evokes a bit of a mid-century modern feel paired with organic patterns and stained woods. Altogether, the effect is simultaneously bold and homey.
While the Longships are nearly identical in design, a unique representation of each of the Norse gods is placed at the head of the stairs (pictured below) for a nice individual touch.
Also unique to the design of the Longships is an asymmetrically offset cabin corridor that allows for longer veranda staterooms on one side of the riverboat and shorter French balconies on the other.
This means cabins are closer in size and configuration to what one would expect on a larger ocean cruise ship. As a result, staterooms are very comfortable with a decent amount of storage. Especially nice are oversized room-length counters, welcome USB charging ports and large flat-panel TVs.
Standard cabin bathrooms are unavoidably smaller, however. Showers are the most skimpy in size but are made manageable thanks to glass enclosures over a billowing curtain. Both panels also cleverly swing in and out to help ease-of-access for bathing and drying off afterward.
Also, the toilet paper roll dispenser takes some getting used to in order to avoid it tearing off under the counter, but all the other hardware is premium in nature.
Shipboard activities are spare, but any lack thereof is forgivable when shore excursions are the primary endeavors. Besides, part of the wonderful value of a Viking cruise is an included tour in every port. Wi-Fi internet access is free as an added perk as well.
Up on deck, there are some deck games in the form of classic shuffleboard and a couple of putting greens.
Inside, destination-centric activities include a small library of regional books and some board games as well. Across the way are a pair of computer terminals for those that did not bring their own mobile devices. Downstairs is a small retail shop with a moderate choice of Viking logo items and souvenirs.
Not onboard are a spa nor dedicated cinema, but the lounge serves as a lecture hall and venue for other local presentations.
Dining is excellent as available for breakfast, lunch and dinner in the restaurant and terrace. The selection is surprisingly varied from such a small galley, and flavor profiles approach those of Viking's exceptional ocean cruise ships.
In the morning and midday, full service is available downstairs, and buffet service is available upstairs. The terrace also serves some items for dinner for those seeking an al fresco option, which is actually a lovely alternative.
Wonderfully included are house soft drinks, beers and wines during meal times (available for a fee otherwise), while the always-available coffee stations have tasty cookies available in the afternoons.
If anything, it would be nice to see some additional snacks available outside of regular serving hours such as finger sandwiches or even some form of limited room service that is not currently available. This way, the riverboats would be more on par with Viking's ocean product—offering those touring on their own something to enjoy if they come back to the ship hungry after lunch or before dinner.
The Viking Longships are solid where they intend to be. It just so happens that onboard activities and entertainment are understandably not a particular point of focus.
Nonetheless, there is always a fine resident pianist ready to serenade guests throughout the day, and a small dance floor welcomes any who wish to waltz along.
The on-demand selection of complimentary in-cabin movies and television programming is also more robust than you might expect. If guests ever desire more to excite their attention besides the passing scenery, the likes of "Downton Abbey" are available to infill the rest of the time.
Viking always excels in its service, and the philosophy comes from the top down. Founder and chairman Torstein Hagen (pictured below, far right, at the Longships 2017 christening event) believes strongly in his people, and it shows through in the crew's friendliness and loyalty to the company and its guests.