I am “cruise liner-phobic”—I have never been on one, I’ve got a fear of the water and I get seasick. But if you had seen me just a few weeks ago, sitting on the balcony outside my room on the Viking Forseti,enjoying the view of the water and the sound of it lapping against the sides of the boat, you would have thought I was the poster girl for river cruising.
I’ve never really had the inclination to get past my cruise phobia. The thought of being on a huge floating city bobbing up and down in the middle of nowhere without seeing even a slip of land for miles and miles makes my stomach turn even as I type the words. I have never been enticed by on-board theaters, nightly Vegas-like shows or pools with waterfalls that would overwhelm Poseidon that most large ships boast about.(I can see all you cruise lovers shaking your heads and rolling your eyes, but I am my father’s daughter.Yes, him being the big burly guy who almost died of seasickness when he, my mom and my older sister sailed to this country many years ago. I keep that secret close to my vest, and if that vest is a nice, puffy orange one with straps that fit around your middle, even better.
When I heard that Viking River Cruises don’t offer all those carnival-like bells and whistles that so many of my cruise-loving friends adore, I considered “thinking” about it. When I heard that cruising on a river is nothing like cruising out on the ocean (hint, no bumps and land is never too far away), I was game. And I must admit, even Dad would have a hard time passing up a relaxing trip on a longship, gliding down the nice, calm Garonne, Gironde, and Dordogne rivers, to and from the city of Bordeaux and the wine region that is home to some of the most famous wine producers in the world such as Saint-Emilion, Pomerol, Sauternes, and Margaux. Without much “arm-twisting, my friend Kathy agreed to join me, and our adventure on Viking’s Chateaux, Rivers & Wine cruise began.
Our first glimpse of Bordeaux was late at night, when we were driven through what looked like a lovely, quaint town, its trees drenched with white Christmas lights that appeared to be dripping from their boughs. In the daylight, the “quaint town” of Bordeaux showed its true personality: An elegant city, not unlike Paris, having been transformed after undergoing massive renovations in the late 1990s. A tour past magnificent architecture, open-air food markets brimming with local produce, regional seafood (mussels and oysters), and the ever-present signature pastry, caneles, could be done on foot or by tour bus, as it was one of the trip’s included excursions. Kathy and I chose to walk that day, and our meanderings took us to some antique flea markets and the well-known chocolate shop, Maison Larnicol, where its chocolate Christmas ornaments had us in awe.
Extra excursions were also part of the trip, and on one of those, Kathy and I spent the morning in the Dordogne, learning about the art of truffle hunting on the farm of “The Trufflle Master” himself, Edouard Aynaud, and his trained sniffer, Farrah the border collie. After some digging and scratching (mostly by Farrah), Kathy even found some truffles herself. (Henceforth, she will be known as “The Truffle Queen of Long Beach, California.”) A five-course, truffle-laden lunch (including ice cream with truffle caramel sauce which was surprisingly delicious), prepared by the owner’s wife as we sat in kitchen of their 17th-century stone farmhouse was included.
It’s only natural that this wine-centric trip attracted many wine enthusiasts of all ages, but the average age of the entire group seemed to be hovering around sixty-five. In addition to the wine-oriented excursions, additional ones to a cognac producer and an oyster farm appealed the the non-wine lovers. For those who were not up for the many walking tours, the long bus trips through beautiful countryside and vineyards galore, and past stately medieval chateaux were quite adequate.
The Viking Forseti offered a welcome respite at the end of each day’s journeys. The central atrium was light-filled and we could see how inviting the outdoor decks could be in warmer weather. Our stateroom, although not overly spacious, was certainly roomy enough for the two of us, and view beyond the sliding glass doors leading to our balcony gave it a very open feel. Lovely for all while cruising, but depending upon where your room was when the boat docked, you could be looking at concrete and pylons, so that was something to consider. Staterooms with river views, French Balcony staterooms, and true suites were also on board.
Meals on the boat were always delicious, and quite often featured specialties of the region. There were options available for meat eaters and vegetarians alike. More formal meals were served in the dining room and a buffet, which we preferred for lunch, was offered in the lounge. Breakfast was also a buffet that included made-to-order omelets. Across the board, the staff was friendly, attentive, and focused on making sure we were all comfortable and satisfied.
Because there were no “distractions” on board, many guests took the time to read, rest, and chat. As one of the cruise leaders stated, unlike their ocean liners, Viking’s river boats are not to be thought of as destinations—the historical sites and cities are the true attractions. Bottom line, if you’re looking for fun, activity, and adventure…on a ship, these cruises are not necessarily for you. But if you are seeking rest and relaxation with some good food, interesting people, and lots of history thrown in, get on board!
I was compensated for my review, but my opinions, as always, are my own.