French Flair Aboard Viking
By Karen Magee, Vice President, Partnerships and Leisure Operations, Tzell Travel Group
I have always been curious about river cruises. Similar to train travel, there’s something romantic about this “old-fashioned” way of seeing the world. As someone in my early 30s, popular opinion would tell me that it wouldn’t be my speed; the assumption being that at this age I would prefer energy and excitement during my vacation. What people tend to forget about today’s 30-somethings is that most of us already live incredibly busy, stressful lives. I myself seek solace and calm when I travel, but still have the bug to see new things. For this dual goal, river cruising seemed like the perfect solution, and I couldn’t have been more right.
My first experience with river cruising was stepping aboard the Viking Rolf longship from a small town outside of Paris. The ship itself is so charming, with a beautiful marble lobby and a miniature “grand” staircase up to the second floor. The design of the ship was a perfect blend of minimalist, clean, Scandinavian touches coupled with some more traditional flares. The cabins were small–as to be expected–but smartly laid out, and more than comfortable for my husband and me. There was a beautiful main restaurant as well as additional dining options upstairs with near the main bar. The only other common area was the rooftop, which was too cold to enjoy during our trip, but surely a popular hangout in the summer months.
Our cruise voyage kicked off with a day in Paris where we opted for the city tour, our first experience traveling in a group tour environment. The upside: you see a lot of the key landmarks, so for a first-time visitor to a city, these general tours are the way to go. Our tour guide in Paris–and throughout the trip– were phenomenal and incredibly knowledgeable. Even though we’ve been to Paris many times, we learned a lot that we hadn’t absorbed in previous visits. The downsides of these tours: they’re not immersive and you’re pressured by the clock to keep moving. This can be a challenge if you are someone who really likes to interact with the locals and take lots of pictures. My suggestion is if you have never been to Paris before and are booked on a river cruise embarking from this beautiful city, fly in a few days early and stay at a city center hotel. That way you can first enjoy the cafés and wander leisurely down the Champs Elysee and save the heavy tourist spots for the Viking City Tour.
After Paris we made our way up the Rhine and stopped in Rouen, France where we had the chance to see Monet’s Gardens, a truly special experience. Try to hit this spot during high season, which is Autumn. It was breathtaking even without the gardens in full bloom, but during its peak, it is pure heaven. Also, to the extent you can control it, get to the main garden area ASAP in the morning! It gets crowded as the day wares on. From Rouen we headed up to Normandy to see Normandy Beaches and the American Cemetery. This was probably the highlight of the trip for me. Viking put together a beautiful tribute where veterans within the group were recognized. It was incredibly humbling and touching. I highly recommend this stop if you’ve never been.
Relaxing and dining on board
Between destinations, river cruising was exactly what I had expected it to be. The energy that inherently comes with not rushing from point A to point B was a breath of fresh air in my busy life. I was also very pleasantly surprised by the quality and variety of the food. While you do miss out on experiencing many local restaurants, the Viking culinary team did an incredible job of bringing that French flair to us. Similarly, I have to say that Viking has somehow mastered the impossible task of providing excellent high-touch service with warmth and accessibility. This is no easy feat in today’s luxury world, where defining individualized customer service is truly an art form.