The Lorelei Can’t Lure Me Away from Viking Hild

Viking Hiln, Viking Hild’s direct sister-ship, passes us northbound on the Rhine as we sail for the famous Lorelei Rock. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Sometimes, you just want a day at sea. A day to relax, do very little, and enjoy your opulent floating surroundings. But on the waterways of Europe, sea days are uncommon. That’s why you have to create your own.

Today proved to be an excellent opportunity to create my very own sea – er, river – day aboard Viking River Cruises Viking Hild as she sails the 12-day Paris to the Swiss Alps river cruise tour; a brand-new itinerary for Viking this year.

A sea – er, river – day aboard Viking Hild, as we cruise the scenic Rhine River. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

Everyone onboard Viking Hild was treated to a morning of scenic cruising along the Rhine River, which we entered late last night after having spent the past three days sailing the Moselle River from Trier, Germany. In the afternoon, guests could take part in a visit to the famous Lorelei – a rocky outcrop bordering a complicated reverse “S”-curve that was said to swallow up ships that followed the Lorelei’s siren song.

Now, I was tempted to do this. I’ve sailed past the Lorelei rock twice now, and the sight from the Rhine is a spectacular one. Viking has just started taking guests up to the rock for a panoramic view of the Rhine below and a visit to the gift shop. Since I’ve never done this, it seemed like the perfect opportunity.

But my own siren – the Viking Hild – was calling to me. And she said, ‘stay onboard.’

We sail south, past Braubach, Germany and the towering…Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

…Marksburg Castle. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

Viking Hild’s Maitre’ D, Rares, comes by with complimentary spiked hot chocolate for guests braving the chilly temperatures up on deck…Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

…as we enter the narrow Lorelei stretch of the river. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

The water level here is low…Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

…and the turns are nerve-wracking. No wonder so many ships were lost here in days gone by. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

One thing most folks don’t realize about river cruising is that you don’t have to take the excursions. You’re literally free to create your own adventure, to a degree, and indulge in your own personal interests. That’s why I chose to give the complimentary bus tour a pass and, instead, sail past the Lorelei aboard Viking Hild. That I could spend just over an hour in our service port of call, Kaub, was just the icing on the cake.

That, and the chance to spend the better part of the day aboard the gorgeous Viking Hild.

The Viking Longships

Viking Hiln passing us. Like Viking Hild, she entered service just this year. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

When Viking introduced the Viking Longships back in March of 2012 in Amsterdam, there was nothing like them afloat. Five years later, that still holds true. It’s not happenstance: Viking engineered it that way.

At every turn, Viking’s thoughtfulness shows through this ship, from the onboard Library to the convenient Internet Centre. No detail has been overlooked, from the 110V, North American style outlets in each stateroom to the heated bathroom floors, the placement of the chairs in the lounge, to the intricate designs on the dinner menus. Nothing has been left to chance here – and that’s exactly how Viking intended it to be.

The atrium aboard Viking’s Longships is the social heart of the ship…Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

…with plenty of inviting seating on its second level. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

Little touches abound aboard Viking Hild and her Longship sisters. Up top on the Sun Deck, you can expect to find plenty of seating, a mii-golf course, and a full-fledged herb garden. Solar panels placed atop the ship’s two massive, stern-facing Explorer’s Suites help to offset the ship’s power consumption.

In the ship’s two-storey atrium, guests can find a ridiculously well-stocked library on the starboard side of the ship, and an internet centre with two laptop computers on the port side. The Viking Lounge, where the day’s entertainment and briefings are held, is all the way forward. And everywhere you turn, floor-to-ceiling glass windows rise up to meet you.

A small library…Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

…and an Internet Corner complement the second level of the atrium on each Viking Longship. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

To ensure no one followed in their footsteps, Viking took the unprecedented step of filing for patents on the corridor design, which was placed a metre to the right in relation to most ships, which have their corridors run smack down the middle of the ship. Viking did this so that it would be able to create river cruising’s first true suites on the port side of the ship, while still having standard balcony staterooms on the starboard side. It did this by “rotating” the suites to run bow to stern instead of the more common port-starboard arrangement. It also patented that design.

All told, Viking filed stem-to-stern patents for its Viking Longships, ensuring that its competitors could never follow in its footsteps.

Viking Hild is one of the newest Longships. Launched this past February, she is similar to the last batch of Longships that debuted last year, and the year before that. Viking now has over 50 of these classy vessels in its fleet and, in years past, I’d delight in picking out the subtle but noticeable differences.

Little touches, like this garden at the foot of the ship’s staircase, characterize the Viking Longships. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

You can tell, though, that Viking has hit the sweet spot in the design of the Longships, because very little differs about Viking Hild from last year’s Longships – with a few minor cosmetic exceptions:

  • The carpeting outside the dining room now shifts towards a red, not blue, gradient;
  • The dance floor is made of darker wood aboard Viking Hild than past vessels;
  • Runners on the bed now have brown, not grey, fringing.

So who cares? I do. These small shifts in design show that Viking is listening to its customers. On past ships, differences were more obvious: power outlets multiplied; stateroom desks became straight and not angled, thereby extending their usefulness; and textures and materials used in stateroom bathrooms continued to change to find the right mix of aesthetics and ease-of-cleaning. That’s part of the reason Viking quickly got rid of the lit chandelier that graced the atriums of the first four Longships in subsequent designs: the crew found it impossible to clean the damn thing.

I’ve never seen that kind of attention to detail on most other cruise lines – and I believe it’s absolutely crucial to Viking’s formula for success.

I Pop Off The Ship For Currywurst in Kaub

Viking Hild approaching the small (very small) town of Kaub, Germany. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

Since I’d stayed onboard for scenic cruising past the Lorelei, I would up with free time in the town of Kaub, where Viking Hild would dock for 90 minutes to pick up guests returning from the excursion to the Lorelei Rock.

After asking the crew if it was okay (it was), I grabbed my “Guest Passport” card and hopped off the ship to explore Kaub for an hour. Good news for my bank account: it’s a sleepy little burg that has few shops and seems to exist only as a stop along the elevated railway line that runs through the town. Bad news: there’s not much to see.

Kaub is a bit of a walk from the pier we docked at…Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

…but the town still boasts some noteworthy sights. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

However, on my return walk to the ship, I stopped for ein bier (a beer) and Currywurst at a little outdoor café called Biergarten am Pegelhaus. Bordered between the Rhine, the highway and the strange elevated rail line, where passenger and cargo trains thundered* by, this cute little café became the highlight of my afternoon. The beer (Erdinger) was cold and frothy, and the Currywurst was excellently spiced, though maybe not quite so as what you can get in the Currywurst epicentre that is Berlin.

*’Thundered’ is probably the wrong expression. The trains are all electric here in Germany for the most part, even the cargo ones. The sound it makes is similar to an electric “whoosh” followed by the clattering of wheels on rail ties. It’s a bit like a Prius driving down a dirt road. 

I had about an hour to stop at a local roadside restaurant…Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

…for currywurst! Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

After my meal, I headed back to the ship, stopping along the way to take photos of the Viking Hild on the Rhine. I got back at the same time as the excursion, and I wasn’t disappointed in the choice I made. So, when you sail with Viking, feel free to do your own thing, too – there’s no obligation to take all of the included tours just because they’re free of charge.

Rudesheimer Coffee & the Viking Explorer’s Society

Back onboard Viking Hild…Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

…the traditional ‘Rudesheimer Coffee Demonstration’ was held in the Viking Lounge. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

Back onboard, the fun continued aboard Viking Hild as we set sail and made our way down the Rhine. A coffee demonstration showcased the region’s famous Rudesheimer Coffee: coffee with steamed milk mixed in with a generous amount of Asbach Uralt, a type of Brandy local to the region. This is something that Viking does on almost all of its Rhine cruises, and I look forward to it every time – and not just because samples of the coffee, in traditional glasses, are given out afterwards!

The finished product: coffee, whipped cream, Asbach Uralt, and chocolate shavings make this a deadly drink! Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

Tonight, the Viking Explorer Society cocktail party was held in the Aquavit Lounge. This is Viking’s past guest party, where cocktails and canapes are passed out, and where a toast is given using the traditional Linie Aquavit; a Norwegian spirit that is favored by Viking’s Chairman, Mr. Torstein Hagen.

It is said that the Linie Aquavit has to pass the equator twice, by ship, before it can be consumed. I don’t know if that really happens anymore, or if it’s just good PR, but it has been a favourite adult beverage of mine since 2012, when Viking first introduced it to me.

Linie Aquavit, a Norwegian spirit served up in the coolest glasses/decanters around. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

When I first started sailing with Viking five years ago, there were half a dozen guests at the past guest party. Tonight, more than a third of the ship showed up – and last summer, on my Eastern Europe cruise along the Danube, nearly the entire ship was filled with repeat guests.

It’s a strong sign of Viking’s popularity among cruisers. Some folks I’ve talked to onboard have done four, five, even seven Viking cruises – mostly on the rivers of Europe, but a few have been to China with Viking, or have taken one of the new ocean cruises aboard Viking Star or Viking Sea before.

Once again, the glasses of aquavit were raised in a toast to all travellers, the Viking crew, and of course, Tor Hagen – the man who, late in life, created a company that has managed to positively affect the lives of so many people.

Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

Our Voyage Report from Viking River Cruises’ Paris to the Swiss Alps river cruise tour continues tomorrow with our call on Mainz, Germany! Follow along on twitter by following @deckchairblog.

Saturday, April 8, 2017Paris, France
Sunday, April 9Paris, France
Monday, April 10Trier, Germany (embarkation)
Tuesday, April 11Trier, Germany / Bernkastel, Germany
Wednesday, April 12Cochem, Germany
Thursday, April 13Middle Rhine Cruising; service call in Kaub, Germany
Friday, April 14Mainz, Germany
Saturday, April 15Speyer, Germany
Sunday, April 16Strasbourg, France
Monday, April 17Basel, Switzerland (disembark); Zurich, Switzerland
Tuesday, April 18Zurich, Switzerland; end of tour.

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