In the second of two parts, we detail our experience with Viking River Cruises sailing a modified itinerary on the Elbe River in Germany, parting thoughts that will prove helpful to other travelers in a similar future situation.
We Would Do It Again, Exactly As We Have Done It
That’s probably the best summary of all we experienced and how the modified plan sent to us by Viking just days before we began worked out. Lisa and I agree, without hesitation, that this was a wonderful travel experience that we would repeat in a heartbeat, exactly as we had done it. We owe a great amount of credit to the Viking organization but, frankly, a lot of that credit goes to us. We were fortunate enough to be able to keep our heads in the right place and see the beauty in what we were experiencing.
The Idea Of Multiple Overnights
Overnight stays on an ocean cruise are rare and usually the exclusive domain of luxury lines with a business plan that pays their bills off higher fares. That enables them to stay in port; the place to be for travelers who are destination focused. We saw that in action not long ago on Azamara Club Cruises when the Captain decided to stay in a Croatian port longer than advertised, just so we would have a better experience.
Multiple overnight stays are even more rare but here we were with three nights in one amazing German town and four more in another. That was gold, pure gold, not likely to be repeated in our lifetimes.
The Viking Ship Swap Advantage
One gigantic advantage of traveling with Viking River Cruises is the resources at their disposal. I saw that a couple summers ago, sailing with Viking just after high water floods, the opposite of our low water disruption had affected published itineraries. Ships could not pass under bridges or go through locks, causing other river cruise lines to cancel sailings. End of story. No vacation for you
Viking’s huge fleet of Viking Longships bring the ability to do ship swaps, moving passengers from one strategically positioned ship to another. In high water situations, ships might have been able to sail a bit. Still, not being able to get under one bridge, prevented them from passing under the dozens more after it.
Also to Viking’s farsighted credit, this is one operational reason why they built not one but two new modified, twin sister longships to complement the two older twins in service on the Elbe River. Had they built just one, the ship swap would not have been possible and we would have been in the same situation as other river cruise lines with a smaller fleet.
On other lines with fewer ships, their vacation was either canceled or became a hotel and bus tour. Not so with Viking, and this is probably the most important lesson learned/realized from our experience.
We Don’t Sail All That Much Anyway
River cruise lines publish itineraries with ports of call listed much like ocean cruise lines do. But that’s about all they have in common with each other. Ocean cruise lines travel a straight line from port to port with passengers along for the ride, all the way.
On river cruises, most of the experience is off the ship. That means river cruise travelers often get off the ship to go on tour in the morning and return to the ship later at a different place further up (or down) the river. They were not on the ship when it sailed. River cruise ship also commonly sail through the night while passengers are sleeping.
In reality, the ‘scenic cruising’ element of river cruising does not happen all that much. On Viking’s 15-day Grand European Tour, we had two periods of narrated scenic cruising, much like glacier viewing on an Alaska ocean sailing. It’s not really that much a part of the experience.
First timers traveling with us got every bit of that experience when Viking chartered two smaller excursion boats to let us see a great amount of the Elbe River in two different locations. This is not something that was part of the modified itinerary but showcased Viking’s nimble ability to adjust operations when the opportunity to make the experience better presented itself.
This Will Be Difficult To Repeat
There is a part of me that suggests booking sailings more likely subject to modification, hope that indeed happens, and just roll with it when it does as a result of this experience. I say that with the same tone as recommending booking a Caribbean cruise late in hurricane season. Those sailings usually sail as promised but if disruption occurs, odds are in the travelers favor to walk away with a better experience in some way, head in the right place. Up front, Fall sailings are some of the best ocean cruise values too.
Looking back, I think we brought readers along all the way, accurately describing what it was like to be on a cruise that never sailed anywhere. Still, the whole notion of a cruise that does not sail but yet brings a positive travel experience is truly unique. It’s something we had never experienced before and might never again. We’re glad we came.
See more of our adventure, any of these ways with more to come after we get back home and reflect on the experience.
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