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So, remember how I told you that I was going on a Viking River Cruise with my mom and that I’d probably be the youngest person on the boat? I wasn’t far off. There were a couple teenagers there with their grandparents, and one couple who looked to be in their late 20’s/early 30’s, but other than that, I was just about the only person under the age of 55 on board. I was also the only artist – at least who was actively creating art on the ship. This made me somewhat a celebrity. So did the fact that I made friends with a bunch of the crew. By the third morning, I was notorious…apparently.

On the second night, I had had a bourbon cocktail, plus a couple glasses of wine, plus a shot of schnapps, at which point I had the crew teaching me how to curse in Filipino (the crew consisted largely of people from the Philippines, Romania, Bulgaria, and Croatia). Meanwhile, I taught them useful American phrases like, “mad props,” “slacking off,” and “busting your balls.” When I went up for breakfast the next morning, I was greeted with shouts of my name and cheers, and the crew that hadn’t already met me was lining up to do so. This reinforced my belief that all good things come from alcohol.

All good things also come from learning your crews’ names and how to say “thank you” in their native tongue. On the second to last day, I called one of the servers by his name to ask him something, and later, he came up to me and said, “You knew my name, and I wasn’t even wearing my name tag. Thank you.” This made me really happy and really sad. Of course I wanted to learn their names. They were waiting on us hand and foot like we were royalty or the pope or something (that is, if the pope regularly drank too much). So I was pleased that I had managed to do so since I’m notoriously bad with names in general (just ask my customers), but I was also bummed out that it’s a rare enough thing that he was shocked that I had done it.

Anyway, none of what I wrote is the point I had intended to make with this post. I’m rambling. Blame it on the jet lag. What I really wanted to do was give a general overview of what a Viking River Cruise is like for anyone interested. First, I’ll say that it is about as pressure-free a way of visiting a new foreign city as possible. Everything is taken care of for you. They arrange for flights and transportation to and from the ship. Food is all covered and wine is free with meals. You can also buy other drinks. The food is good, but carb-heavy, and there weren’t a lot of vegetarian protein options – especially at lunch. It was pretty red-meat-and-pork-centric. But the breads were delicious (I won’t even tell you how much weight I gained because of the breads and pastries). The staff is unbelievably, almost awkwardly solicitous and won’t let you do anything for yourself. They also have excellent senses of humor. The rooms are immaculately cleaned daily, including turn-down service. Internet access and television are spotty, but present sometimes. There are optional excursions you can take in addition to the free guided morning tours. There’s on board evening entertainment. Pretty much anything you could wish for, they’ve got covered.

Generally, you wake up relatively early either to discover you’re cruising along the river and are almost at the next port, or that you arrived and docked during the night. After breakfast in either the downstairs dining room or the upstairs deck, you grab your gear and load onto a bus to be driven to the city center (if it’s not close enough just to walk to). There, you’re broken up into smaller groups and met by guides, and you all wear your voxes (quiet voice box). This is the most humiliating thing you’ll do on the trip. The guide speaks into a microphone that transmits what he or she is saying over a radio frequency that your vox picks up and relays into your ear piece. Super convenient because they don’t have to shout to be heard, and you can wander a little farther off to snap photos while they talk without missing anything. But, damn, those things look awful. You might as well attach neon signs to our heads that say “aging tourist.” Shudder. They’re also pretty uncomfortable. But still, super convenient. The guide does a walking tour of some part of the city. Depending on the day, you may or may not go into any buildings, and the tour can last anywhere from 45 minutes to almost 2 hours. Then they let you loose to hide the vox in your purse and wander on your own. Mom and I made a habit of seeking out a good cafe in each town to sit and watch the world go by. It has ruined me for Starbucks. I never knew a latte could be so good. We also did a little extra exploring, checking out local shops and galleries. More on that in another post.

Cafe in Budapest

Budapest (Buda side, near St. Matthias Cathedral)

After you’ve had some time to explore, you’ll meet back up with your guide and head back to the ship for some lunch. Each afternoon (and some mornings), there are optional excursions to check out other areas, go to a concert, visit a museum. While a lot of them looked interesting, I have to say, I’m not sure the additional cost was necessarily worth it, and I was always pretty damn tired and in sensory overload by the time I got back for lunch. A nap in the afternoon was welcome. And I found that I really loved sitting on the deck and drawing/painting what I’d seen in the morning or the day before. It helped me process everything I had seen and heard and helped me decompress. There’s only so much of the whole being-herded-from-one-place-to-another-in-a-large-group thing that I can handle. I found that I liked my travelling companions on the boat more if I hadn’t been around them 24/7, dodging traffic together, getting in each other’s way as we tried to take pictures, waiting for everyone to show up so we could move on. It made making small talk at dinner easier, too. If you didn’t go on any of the extra excursions, you were free to spend the afternoon how you wished: napping, playing cards, listening to the on board piano player and sipping cocktails, headed back out to the city to explore some more on your own. Or if you wanted to do something special, concierge would help you get tickets or appointments to whatever it was in town that you were hoping to do.

When everyone was back on board by a set time, the boat generally launched again and began making its way down the river to the next port. Meanwhile, there was a presentation each evening about something we’d be seeing or doing the next day and an overview of what the schedule would be. Then off to dinner in either of the two dining spots again. There’s no assigned seating, so there’s always that awkward moment if you’re not with a large group where you’ve got to figure out who you’re going to sit with each night, but it gets you chatting with people you might not have otherwise interacted with.  After dinner, they have music or games in the lounge area, or you can sit outside and watch the world go by as you float along. Then back to your room to find turn down service has come and left your itinerary for the next day.

My overall view was that it was a fantastic trip, and a really great way to quickly and safely and hasslelessly (it’s a word now, get over it) see a city and get a general overview of it’s history and people. But what I’d like to do is now go back and book a hotel or a condo and stay for a week or three in the cities I really enjoyed to get to know them better. There was so much more to see, but not enough time to see it when you’ve got strict time frames aboard a boat.

More on the specifics and observations of my person adventure in another post. Auf wiedersehen, peeps. Time to slack off.