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Sharon Bonner

Age: 60

Occupation:financial manager

Number of Cruises: 4

Cruise Line: Viking River

Ship: Viking Prestige

Sailing Date: 2012-05-20

Itinerary: Grand European Tour

Our first river cruise; we have been on three ocean cruises previously. In summary, Viking provided a magical cruise with informative tour guides, good accommodations, an ample variety of food, and a friendly staff. I don't think you can beat the venue and ease of travel for a daily changing itinerary.

The downside to this size of ship, as compared to the larger ocean ships, is the lack of dining choices and the loss of anonymity.

Even though the food was uniformly good, eating all three daily meals in the same room for two weeks is monotonous. However, no ocean liner is going to make it up the Rhine river, so make budget plans to eat several meals on shore to break up the sameness of eating in the ship dining room every day. Some days we bought cheese, salamis, bread and olives and ate our snack on the sun deck instead of eating in the dining room. The staterooms have refrigerators so laying in a supply of goodies is easy and fun.

Many of the reviewers considered meeting new people a highlight of the trip. While everyone we met was nice, I don't want to spend each meal listening to the life stories of people I will never see again. The dining room had two tables for five, and the remaining tables were for six or eight. I wish there were tables of two and four, but I guess I understand that a variety of smaller tables would increase the work for the wait staff.

Viking mails you a packet the week before your trip with detail on shore excursions, along with sturdy red leather baggage tags, plastic name tags on nice lanyards, all in a very well made black leatherette carry case. I would suggest eliminating the luggage tags, name tags, and carry case and spending the money towards a computerized on-board card system, like the ocean liners. The hassle of signing for every drink (other than meal times) and waiting in line to exchange your room keycard for a paper card before you get off in each port would be eliminated with a computerized card system.

A few quirky things: each lunch started with a buffet salad; the lettuce was always on the wrong side of the buffet line and all of the salad toppings were offered first, then the lettuce, so you either had an upside down salad, or you annoyed people in the line by cutting back in to build your salad lettuce up. Also in the quirky category on the ship offered a raffle of assorted items, three raffle tickets for 10 Euro. The drawing was held at the same time a ship-sponsored cocktail party was held on the sun deck. I chose to go to the free cocktail party, thinking if I won something at the raffle, I would be informed later. However, the raffle was a "must be present to win" format, which was never announced beforehand. Hmmm, guess those cocktails weren't exactly free.

The average age on our cruise was late 60's and we are 60. From checking out the groups on the other river ships in our ports of call I am confident that the average age on river cruises is generally a full decade or two older than the average age of ocean cruising passengers. The advantage to an older group is that you have the public areas of the ship mostly to yourself after 10:00 p.m. and the sun deck is always thinly populated, but the downside of older passengers is those life stories of strangers are pretty long.

The ship is easy on and easy off, and the excursions offer classic and leisure versions, with the leisure option involving less walking. While the overall pace of a river cruise is calmer than an ocean cruise, you will most optimally enjoy the river cruise if you can walk at least three miles comfortably. Seems like an obvious statement, but walking on cobble stones and up and down crooked and steep steps is way more rigorous than walking in the mall at home. Make note to start a walking program in advance of your trip, and include time going up and down stairs to get yourself in shape.

As you prepare for the end of your cruise, Viking offers a debriefing seminar on baggage handling, settling your bill (cash in Euros, US dollars, or credit card), and suggested tipping. On our trip, the suggested tip was 168 Euro for each person. Converting to US dollars at the time of our trip, this amount equated to $210 per person. We had 185 passengers on our cruise, and I estimate the entire staff at about 40 people. Even bumping the number of staff to 50, that averages a per staff person tip of $777, and you know the tips are not distributed evenly to each staff person. We chose to add €180 to our bill for the tip pool for the two of us, rather than the suggested 336 Euro, and we handed out $250 in cash tips to those specific crew members we felt had been most beneficial to the enjoyment of our trip. The aggregate amount of our tipping equaled $475, which was in excess of the recommended $420, but we like our way of distributing the amount we tipped.

The river cruise allowed us to visit 15 interesting and varied locales with the comfort of no daily bag wrestling, no wasted time and stress on busses, taxis, and the like, a cozy, clean room, and the reliability of a good meal at a set time should we wish to take advantage of it. Viking delivers a great product. Well done.

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