The numbers speak for themselves. Voted Number 1 river and small ocean cruise line by Conde Nast and Travel and Leisure in 2017, Viking Cruises’ extensive trophy cabinet of accolades speak of the company’s dedicated attention to detail and their tradition of offering guests unique travel experiences. How many people can claim they have blended their own cognac in the eponymous birthplace of the famous brandy? Or spread their wings in one of the world’s only albatross rookeries on the windswept coast of New Zealand?
It is the intimacy and the intricacy of each Viking itinerary that has earned the Swiss-based company its stellar reputation. Expect sophisticated, state of the art touring aboard their fleet, and well-crafted, elaborate shore excursions in each riverside destination. Although they boast an expanding ocean line, the Viking longships that set sail on Egypt’s Nile, Russia’s Volga, China’s Yangtze, the South-East Asian Mekong and Europe’s criss-crossed mesh of rivers are the star performers.
These energy-efficient Scandanavian boats and their sleek, minimalist interiors are environmentally conscious – for every luxurious sundeck, there is an onboard organic herb garden, for every bar and lounge, there is a solar panel. Adults-only luxury abounds, and you can expect peace, quiet and a fair dose of good wine on any one of their 8 to 23-day river cruises.
Grape-loving groupies and castle connoisseurs buckle up! For utter saturation in fine wines, great food and a smattering of European palaces and ruins (what else?) embark at Bordeaux on a French voyage on the Garonne, Dordogne and Gironde Rivers. Aspiring vignerons will recognise the sweet aromas of Sauternes’ dessert wines, and everybody else will certainly enjoy a sample.
In Libourne, gourmands will be torn between an excursion to a nearby chateau for a wine-tasting or a truffle tour of Bergerac, the township from which quick-witted, big-nosed literary hero Cyrano hailed. The 17th century citadel of Blaye offers Gothic castle ruins, elaborate city walls and a wine-country tour of Pauillac.
Wined and dined and hungry for history, the 15-day Magnificent Mekong cruise should be your next port of call, so to speak. Begin on dry land with two nights in a luxury hotel in Hanoi, for a firsthand encounter with echoes of French colonialism and American wartime occupation and for the steady pulse of Vietnam’s age-old, community-based agrarian tradition. This distinctly Vietnamese way of life is palpable in the Museum of Ethnology’s exhibits about rural villages, in the Confucian grace of the Temple of Literature, and above all the unwavering friendliness of smiling locals.
A short flight to the temple capital of Asia, Cambodia’s Siem Reap, will drop into a culture-rich immersion in local spirituality – in the Khmer complex of Angkor, and then 10th century Hindu temples the following day. A coach tour through Cambodian countryside will deposit you at Kampong Cham to meet your cosy, 56-berth ship. On board, float gently by a silk-weaving village, a monastery and then Phnom Penh for markets, temples, a cyclo tour and a heart-wrenching visit to the solemn Killing Fields, remnants of the horrific genocide incited by the Khmer Rouge. Continue on in the Mekong Delta past rice paddies and floating fish farms before an apt conclusion in Vietnam’s joyful, buzzing second capital, Ho Chi Minh City.
Perhaps you would prefer to “cross the ditch” of the Tasman Sea on an Oceanic exploration of the diverse coastlines of eastern Australia and New Zealand. Maybe a Balinese dinner is more your cup of tuak, or staring the world’s largest lizard in the eye in Indonesia’s Komodo National Park. You can toss up between making matryoshka dolls in Mandrogy, Russia, or savouring a cinnamon pastry atop Norwegian peak Mt. Ulriken on the Iceland Majestic Landscapes expedition. Or tackle a big one, and cover a Grand tour all the way from Amsterdam to Budapest!
Regardless of whether you opt for ocean or river, there is no shortage of onboard lectures, guided tours, luxurious accommodation, fine dining and an array of optional additions. Indeed there is no area in which Viking Cruises fall short, save the unfortunate fact you will eventually have to return home.