ABOARD THE VIKING KARA – Going through airport security to catch my flight home from Amsterdam, the agent asked the “nature of my business” for the trip. When I answered that I had been on a Viking River Cruise, he gave me a smile.
“Hard to return to reality, isn’t it?” he asked.
River cruising is a great way to get up close with cities, towns, stories and people along the world’s mighty waterways. I have become an avid fan of these river ships and Viking River Cruises certainly has earned a place in my heart. Viking does so many things to make a cruise special for passengers.
So, as my final blog about my Viking Kara cruise, I’d like to share some of the things (in no particular order) that I like about Viking River Cruises.
The crew on the Kara is impeccable. Everyone I met was way beyond courteous. When hotel manager Peter Burkhard asked what the crew could do to improve my cruise, I felt that he really meant it. Passengers received questionnaires at journey’s end and those provide valuable feedback, Peter said.
For example, when a passenger remarked on an earlier cruise that it would be nice to have complimentary bottles of water for each shore excursion, the powers-that-be at Viking listened. Now passengers are handed bottles of water as they exit the ship. Extra water is also sometimes distributed on tour buses. Two big complimentary bottles of mineral water are placed in passenger cabins each night. Many other cruise lines overcharge for a bottle of water. Much appreciated, Viking.
‘Scandinavian Understated’ Décor
The comfortable size and layout of the Kara were quite pleasing. Launched in 2014, the Kara has an elegant yet simple décor. Hotel manager Peter called it “Scandinavian understatement.” The Kara has four decks with 95 staterooms and a capacity of 190 passengers. All of the staterooms are outside which is wonderful. Wonderful little cabin touches included heated bathroom floors and big flat screen TVs which televise ship activities and programs presented in the lounge, as well as the usual TV offerings.
Our cruise had 167 passengers, the majority of which were Americans. The rest were from Canada, Chile, United Kingdom, Guatemala and Australia. There were no children on our cruise. The language spoken was English. The average age, I would guess, was about 60. One fifth of the passengers were repeat cruisers with Viking which is the greatest compliment a cruise line can get.
The Viking Kara has many extras that other cruise lines charge for, such as WiFi, bottled water, shore excursions and complimentary wine, beer and soft drinks with lunch and dinner.
Open Dining, Delicious Cuisine
The daily menu features a choice of at least six entrees at lunch and dinner – three entrees change at each meal and three are served throughout the cruise. The chef and his staff are excellent at preparing dishes for people with food allergies. And servers don’t forget who has which allergy. I don’t have allergies but I watched the staff in action for my dining companions on Kara who did have allergies and was quite impressed.
I enjoyed the open dining aspect and the ability to choose where I sat and with whom but I’ve never felt uncomfortable with any seating arrangement offered by a cruise line. I can be assigned a table or I can choose one. I can eat by myself or with strangers who often become friends. Doesn’t really matter to me. But I do know that it mattered to other passengers on the Kara. The choice seemed to be overwhelmingly for open seating so perhaps all cruise lines should consider that.
Limited Public Announcements
The Kara policy concerning announcements piped into cabins is much appreciated. Public announcements aboard ship are kept to a minimum. That means no loud voice on an intercom will jar me awake at 6 a.m. by announcing that the ship has arrived in some port. “Announcements will not be made for such routine events such as tour departures or meal times,” program director René Van Loon noted. Hooray!
Every evening in the lounge, René would tell us what was planned for the next day. Although we always got a daily program at evening turndown in our cabins, it was nice to hear René talk about the activities and for him to be available for questions.
The four-page daily programs placed in our staterooms every evening contained a wealth of information. Of course, there was the daily schedule but there were also such important details as the location of our ship, the ship phone and the program director’s phone. Those are good things to have which is why Kara passengers are told to carry the program when they leave the ship for tours or walks in town.
The program also had the daily weather forecast, the WiFi password, and some background information on the place we are visiting that day. It also had the day and date. Seems like a simple thing to remember but cruise days are so relaxed that it’s easy to forget.
Shore Excursions and Tour Guides
Shore excursions on any cruise are always one of my favorite parts and the Kara offers some fascinating ones. Feedback from passengers help choose those tours and guides. It’s not enough for a tour guide to know the area; it’s also important that a tour guide can share that information in an interesting way and that he or she can keep track of large groups. The QuietVox devices in our rooms for use on excursions were an excellent way to make sure we didn’t miss anything the guide was saying. We looped the devices around our necks, stuck the audio piece in our ear and adjusted the volume to our liking.
My favorite guide on this cruise was Malcolm Waddell who created the World War II shore excursions to Colmar, France, and the Audie Murphy Memorial. Malcolm had done tremendous research into World War II, particularly in the region of France we toured. He didn’t seem to mind answering questions and he showed great respect for his subject matter. When we left a site where many soldiers on both sides had died, Malcom paused to say a prayer for those who had given their lives on that site as well as for those who have given so much to help maintain the freedom we have today.
Activities aboard the Kara have definitely been to my liking. Some might complain about the dearth of activities but I liked the peacefulness, the chance to join in, as someone said, “the art of conversation.” Nothing wrong with having a multitude of activities, recreation devices and all sorts of other things on a cruise ship but there is nothing wrong also with sitting still for a while and watching the river roll.
Fellow passengers on my Kara cruise were a great diverse group and wonderful travelers. A firm believer that every person has a story to tell, I enjoyed meeting one-time strangers and being given the privilege of a glimpse into their lives.
The embarkation and debarkation processes were very well organized and easy. Getting on the ship was a breeze. Getting off today was equally as simple. Viking River Cruises is super organized. As program director René said, “I have a thing about luggage. I want to make sure that you leave with the same luggage you came with.”
Because it is a smaller ship, I was able to set out my suitcase at 7:15 on the morning of departure for pickup by the crew. That is a decent time as compared to having to put it out the night before on larger ships. Before I boarded the bus for the airport, René made sure that I identified my suitcase and watched as the suitcase was loaded onto the bus.
Viking even went to the airport with us. When we got off the bus, we were greeted by Viking personnel who pointed out where to catch our flights and answered any questions we had. Very comforting and considerate of Viking.
The biggest problem with leaving the Kara is that I didn’t want to. The Viking River Cruises experience has been exemplary – my idea of a true cruise. Would I recommend Viking or return myself? In a heartbeat.
Photos and video by Jackie Sheckler Finch