Story and photos by Barbara Angelakis
Additional photos by Manos Angelakis
To River Longship or Ocean Cruise Ship?
Ah, that is the question… well it’s not a matter of life or death, but there are differences.
We have recently experienced both with Viking so I have a perfect platform from which to compare. Our latest was the “Iconic Western Mediterranean” cruise on the Viking Star.
Serendipitously, I bumped into a woman that was on our last Viking River Cruise and she began a conversation contrasting the two. The matter came up again and again with other passengers we spoke with, so for the record here is my observation for those first-timers who want to take a cruise and are not sure what type to choose; or to repeat cruisers that might want to have a different type of experience. By the way, almost everyone we met had taken multiple Viking Cruises; in one case a couple had experienced almost all the river destinations - of which there are many - and was working their way through the Ocean Cruise offerings. We met others that had only been on ocean cruises and expressed interest in what river cruises offered and how they differed.
The most obvious difference is size. Viking River Longships can accommodate up to 190 passengers with a compliment of 4 to 1 guest to crew ratio; while Viking Ocean going ships can accommodate 930 with a ratio of staff to passenger on average 1 to 2. Our Viking Star cruise was at full capacity with 930 guests and a crew of 400. The staterooms also tend to be larger, but in both the river and ocean cruises, the service is outstanding. Both ships offer five-star comfortable beds and amenity packages, and spanking clean staterooms. Both had a desk and lounge area and both had verandas and spacious bathrooms… but again size varied. (see River of Gold)
Size also determines the number of activities on board and the variety of eating venues. On the larger ocean cruises there are many dining venues to choose from. One of our favorite spots, which we returned to over and over again, was the popular Pool Grill that made dynamite hamburgers to order. In both cases there are ample opportunities to meet fellow passengers which were without exception, eager to share interesting stories and travel adventures. It’s an opportunity to strike-up lasting friendships with people who live all over the country… in fact, all over the world! It is also true that larger ships tend to see more family or friends traveling together in a group and offer entertainment opportunities for the youthful traveler that do not exist on river ships which are mostly adult only.
Last year we took a “Waterways of the Tzars” Viking River Cruise, visiting not only the big cities of Moscow and the legendary St. Petersburg, but several small towns in between which were delightful and which offered an opportunity to investigate little known bits of history providing fascinating insight into the Russian personality. (see Waterways of the Tzars)
A major plus for the well-seasoned traveler, who is looking for more in-depth experiences, is the ability of the longships to dock at smaller towns and villages lining the rivers. Also the harbors are most frequently within walking distance of the destination du jour, which makes getting on and off the ship at leisure to explore on your own, a bonus. Another of the major advantages is the proximity to both sides of the rivers which affords spectacular views and photo ops and the fascinating experience of passing through the locks that are necessitated by the elevation differences of the linking rivers. The larger ships mainly visit well-known ports-of-call since they require deep harbors to anchor in. On the plus side, that’s an opportunity for the less traveled passenger to check off major must-see destinations from their bucket list, all in one trip.
The above generalities notwithstanding, it all boils down to personal desire and past experiences. Our Mediterranean cruise departed from Barcelona, Spain stopping at the well-known ports along France’s Cote d’Azur and the west coast of Italy, ending in Rome. My brother and sister-in-law loved the same cruise which they took a few years ago due to the nightly partying and dancing opportunities it afforded them. They enjoyed relaxing at pool-side during the day and the people they met that shared similar interests, so for them, the larger ships suited them perfectly.
We experienced weather in the Mediterranean with large waves that pounded the ship, which do not exist on the rivers, but in both cases ports-of-call can be canceled due to unpredictable local weather conditions so it’s important to be flexible knowing that passenger well-being and safety is the most important aspect to any ship’s captain.
On boarding the ship I was struck once again by the warm welcome we received from the crew and the top notch efficient organization that leaves no question unanswered or service denied, regardless of the number of passengers. Viking provides a Cruise Document weeks in advance of departure, which covers your personalized cabin and touring choices, along with ship specifics and general information that is invaluable in making your trip as hassle-free as possible. As in the river cruise, there were daily lectures about the next port-of-call with information provided on the highlights of each destination, plus every stop offered included tours covered under the cost of the cruise, as well as optional tours at additional cost.
While I appreciated all of the many activities such as lectures and films; restaurants and bars; pools and fitness center; full service beauty parlor and authentic LivNordic Spa; Library and Business Center; Boutique and shops; Medical Center; free laundry on every floor, etc., the size of the ship necessitated long corridors to navigate several times a day. Thankfully there were large capacity elevators that moved rapidly between floors and on a positive note, all that walking helped keep down the weight from all that eating.
I especially enjoyed a visit to the popular spa for a massage, although I did not quite have the courage to undertake the full Nordic spa experience having done it in Canada years ago and my bones are still shivering (sic). I spoke with one young woman who had just completed the icy cycle and said it was a “harrowing” experience but could not wait to do it again and invited me to join her in the Snow Grotto after spending time in the Sauna. Although I declined after describing my previous experience and we had a good laugh about it, I left her entering the cold white sanctuary. I saw her again later and she was still raving about the feeling of well-being resulting from the experience although her husband rolled his eyes at the thought of it, when I inquired if he had also engaged in the much loved Nordic practice.
At the end of the day both types of cruises offer the major benefit of visiting multiple destinations without having to repeatedly pack and unpack; navigate rail and/or air transportation; or deal with the complexities of travel that can ruin a long anticipated vacation. There are so many advantages to ship travel that one must personally experience, hopefully the above whets your appetite for one or the other… or both!
For information visit: www.vickingcruises.com
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