New Viking Einar Impresses A First Timer
By Judi Cohen.
This was my first ever Europe river cruise, and I was awed the moment I stepped into the spacious and bright two-story atrium of Viking Cruises’ 190-passenger Viking Einar.
The natural light from the floor-to-ceiling windows and the reflection of the water danced with the light woods, the beige and blue carpeting, the woven fabric on the walls, and the large artworks to create a warm, yet dramatic, environment.
I was aboard Viking Einar last month for the boat’s naming festivities and afterwards, a four-night mini Rhine cruise. Click here for the Naming story.
Pretty Public Spaces
The Viking Einar is typical of Viking’s fleet of 72 longships, though Richard Riviere, the architect and veteran designer of the fleet, explained to me that each vessel has minor design differences, from the color of bathroom tiles and fabrics, to the type of wood flooring.
As on many boats and ships, large and small, the Einar’s atrium was the hub of activity. The reception, gift shop, concierge and blond Scandinavian wood and fabric chairs were all found here. Looking up to the second level above was a small library with sofas, two computer workstations, and a 24-hour refreshment nook with coffee, tea and cookies.
The Einar was designed with a rounded bow to create an indoor/outdoor lounge and viewing area called the Aquavit Terrace at the stern, where I spent much of my time. Some days I enjoyed dining alfresco on the Aquavit Terrace at breakfast and lunch, and then returning in the evening for a glass of wine to watch our transit through the Rhine’s many locks.
From the Aquavit Terrace, I could easily go up to the sundeck for a 360-degree view and check out the boat’s well-manicured organic herb garden (used for cooking on the ship), walking track, putting green, and shuffleboard.
Lounge and Bar
Before dinner, passengers gathered for cocktails and a catch-up on the day’s activities in the spacious lounge and bar on the upper deck. Many made the most of their time while aboard the ship at the bar with its signature “clinker” overlapping wood-plank-on-wood-plank design harkening back to early Viking boat-building techniques.
With the aid of a large video screen, the cruise director briefed us on the following day’s schedule and shore excursion options.
The lounge, with floor-to-ceiling windows on both sides, was also a lovely space to work and gaze at the scenery as the ship made its way along the river.
On our final night, a four-piece orchestra played Bach and the Hungarian Czarda, and everyone seemed to enjoy it very much.
Located on the middle deck, the restaurant offered one dinner sitting for all guests. Open for breakfast and dinner daily, the restaurant was bright with large floor-to-ceiling windows and comfortable blond wood tables and chairs. There was plenty of space between tables for circulation and service.
The buffet area in the centre of the restaurant featured white granites and steel, and was approachable from all sides, with space in the middle for the chefs. This is where I ordered my omelettes every morning. The service was wonderful, and by the second day I didn’t even have to say how I wanted my omelette made! There were loads of fresh fruit, plus yogurts, nuts, smoked salmon, bacon, open-face Danish sandwiches, and all sorts of breads and pastries.
The dinner menu offered “classics” that were always available including a rib eye steak, poached Norwegian salmon, and roast chicken with a Caesar salad. Dessert choices included creme brûlée, cheese, seasonal fruit, and ice cream. Beer, wine and soft drinks at lunch and dinner are included in cruise fares.
There were also options that changed daily, and I typically ordered from the three-course tasting menu with recommended wine pairing. The honey and rosemary rack of lamb with a potato gratin was outstanding as was the three-onion soup prepared Lyonnais style with punchy provolone and gruyere cheeses.
The Surf and Turf, with lobster-au-gratin and slow cooked beef, was paired with the sommelier’s recommendation of Valleta Barbera d’Alba Schloss, a full-bodied red wine — they were perfectly matched.
Being a dessert fan, I could not resist trying the specialty every night. From the mango lassi cake with chia passion fruit sauce, to the Heisse Liebe, a vanilla parfait with crunchy nougat and raspberry sauce, I enjoyed each burst of unique flavour.
The Viking Einar’s 95 outside cabins were located on the first three of the boat’s four decks, comprising 25 standard cabins, 22 French balcony cabins, 39 veranda cabins, seven veranda suites and two explorer suites. There are no inside cabins aboard the Viking longships.
Most cabins have floor-to-ceiling windows or doors, while the water-level cabins on the main deck have smaller windows at the top of the outside wall.
My cabin (309) was a Category B, 205-square-foot Veranda cabin located mid-ship on the upper deck, making it very easy to get to the atrium and central staircase. I found the closet and drawer space generous and loved the heated bathroom floor, mirror, and flat-screen TV.
The light wood counters above the dresser drawers and desk provided ample space to work along with a comfortable chair. When I wanted a break, I could sit on my private balcony and watch the world slowly float by.
The white fluffy towels and crisp linens made me feel like I was in a fancy hotel. In fact, my daughter Face-timed me, and I showed her my cabin. She could not believe I was on a river boat and not in a Four Seasons Hotel!
While the ship was a beauty, the food excellent, and my cabin very comfortable, the highlights of the mini-cruise were the ports and shore excursions. There were tours offered in each port, but it was also easy to walk along the short gangway from the ship directly onto a sidewalk. With temperatures between 50-65 degrees Fahrenheit during the day with sunny skies, all I needed was a light down jacket.
Rhine cruises typically start in early April and for me, it was a perfect time to go. Ahh…springtime in Europe!!
On this four-day mini-cruise, we sampled some of the ports visited on a full cruise including Basel in Switzerland and Strasbourg, France, along with Heidelberg and Mainz in Germany.
The full 7-night “Rhine Getaway” cruise would also visit Breisach, Cologne and Koblenz in Germany, and Kinderdijk and Amsterdam in the Netherlands.
In each port, the fare includes one two- to six-hour shore excursion, usually a walking tours and sometimes via bus. Optional excursions are available including “Privileged Access” tours at an additional charge, such as “The Hermitage Behind Closed Doors” ($129 USD pp) in St. Petersburg. It starts with a private tour of the museum’s public collection followed by a transfer to an off-site location with an art historian to learn something about the millions of pieces of art, furniture, gifts to Russian royalty and imperial carriages that are held in secured vaults.
This was our embarkation point with the vessel docked only a 15-minute walk from the city centre. Shuttles ran regularly as well. During the walking tour in Basel I loved seeing the blend of old and new buildings with colourful trams running in all directions from the centre.
The large red sandstone 15th-century Basel Minster cathedral dominates the old town, and the streets are full of small shops selling unique Swiss trinkets like cow bells, cuckoo clocks, swiss flags, and other handicrafts.
Many fine jewelry stores, including the iconic Patek Philippe watch store, were located throughout the old city.
Leaving the ship around 9am allowed a full day to enjoy this historic and colourful city. The morning excursion began with a short scenic bus ride from the port to Strasbourg’s historic old town. The bus took us along streets of well-pruned trees where storks sat in giant nests.
We passed university areas, parks and churches, as we made our way to Petite France, a historic quarter on Strasbourg’s tiny “Grande Ile” island, a UNESCO World Heritage site.
We meandered along Petite France’s canals, admiring the half-timbered houses and cobblestone roads lined with tiny shops and buildings.
Being a foodie, I was thrilled that the afternoon optional “Taste the Best of the Alsace” excursion ($189 USD pp) started with lunch in a charming French restaurant, and included eating opportunities as we strolled through Petite France. We visited gingerbread bakeries, macaron and chocolate shops, high-end fromageries (one with the largest cheese bell in the world!), and wine stores.
Our taste tour culminated with our group seated at a long wooden table in one of the quaint Alsace wine shops, feasting on everything we had bought along the way.
The afternoon tour concluded with a wonderful “behind the scenes” private organ concert in the 13th-century Gothic Notre Dame Cathedral; a visit to the cathedral is included on many tours but rarely an actual concert. WOW! Imagine being one of only 30 people in this majestic space to hear the organist play for almost an hour. It was truly magical. Listen to Judi’s video below!
We had a full day in one of Germany’s oldest, and in my opinion, most romantic cities: Heidelberg. Following a short 20-minute bus ride from the port in Mannheim up a winding road to the 12th-century Heidelberg Castle, we enjoyed a walking tour around the red-sandstone ruins of the Renaissance-style complex high above the old town.
We then drove down to the old town to see the 14th-century Heidelberg University (Germany’s oldest university, with some 56 Nobel Prize winners as alumni) to walk around the Baroque-style old quarter with its narrow cobbled streets.
In the town there are several memorials to the Holocaust, one that caught my attention were the stumbling stones (Stolpersteine in German) placed in front of buildings where the Nazis removed residents for transport to the death camps. Each concrete block bears a brass plate inscribed with the name of a victim persecuted and killed by the Nazis, and the date and place of death.
During our bus ride along the Neckar River back to the Einar we saw well-manicured private homes and many old vaulted bridges.
The Einar was now docked in Worms, Germany, for our onward short sail to Mainz, Germany.
Mainz was our last port of call. Docked right in front of City Hall and the major shopping area of Mainz, we were met by our guides and taken for a brief walking tour in the city centre to see the flower gardens and the thousand-year-old St. Martin’s Cathedral and under renovation. The town square was packed with restaurants and crowds enjoying the sunset with drinks and food.
Our tour continued to the Gutenberg Museum with a private visit to see two of the famous 15th-century Gutenberg Bibles kept in a security vault. We were also given a demonstration of how early printing was done during the time of Johannes Gutenberg and saw some of the historic printing presses. Fascinating!
As our mini-cruise was, sadly, over, the following morning I headed to the Frankfurt Airport, (a short 45-minute drive) for my flight home to Toronto.
It was a whirlwind of a week immersing myself in the Viking brand of river cruising aboard the newly christened Viking Einar.
I must admit I am hooked on “The Viking Way” and I look forward to another Viking river cruise one day soon.
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