Sailing the Danube with Viking (and a Teenager in Tow)

written by | Posted on November 7th, 2013

 

Small villages dot the riverbanks of the Danube.

Small villages dot the riverbanks of the Danube.

There’s no denying that river cruising is hot—baby boomer clients can’t get enough of this product, but what about the rest of your clients? Is this something you might consider for your family clients with teenagers? In fact, what better classroom than the cobblestone streets of Europe for teenagers to soak in the history they are being taught back home? We figured we’d give this thought a whirl and boarded a Viking Longship with a teenager in tow, and the result was a delightful vacation (tip to travel agents: think about a mother/daughter bonding trip, which is great during those teenage years). During the 8-day Romantic Danube itinerary on board the Viking Bragi (where my teenage daughter and I shared a Veranda Stateroom and had ample room), social media was tossed out the window, so to speak, eyes were ablaze, and the conversation with fellow passengers—as the wine (and soda) flowed—lasted into the wee hours.

So while some other river cruise companies, such as Uniworld and Tauck, pursue the family market, Viking Cruises does not. In fact, according to what Torstein Hagen said at the ASTA Convention this past September, he doesn’t want screaming teenagers on board the ships, and we get that, we totally do. But that’s why you have to know your clients: If it’s a teenager who can sit back and be amazed at the passing scenery, who likes to lounge about with a book in hand (like many of the passengers do during down time on these leisurely trips) and who is thrilled at discovering new destinations, then a river cruise is an experience they will soon not forget.

Says Michael Consoli, a Cruise Planners travel advisor who received the “Top Travel Advisor” award from Viking Cruises in 2012, “While the ships are not designed specifically for children—they don’t have children’s programs, for example—it’s certainly a great way for families to see the parts of the world where river cruising exists. It combines the interest of history with less-rigorous shore excursion experiences. River cruising lends itself to being more leisurely, and you can basically walk off the ship and you are right in the city.”

Richard Marnell, senior v.p. of marketing at Viking Cruises, does point out that Viking “designs its ships and itineraries for a specific type of traveler—rather than trying to be everything for everyone,” but does consent that “the river cruise experience can resonate with the right mature teenager. And we do occasionally hear from agents with positive reviews from clients who have traveled with a teenager.” Although, again, he does emphasize that Viking’s primary audience remains experienced travelers, aged 55 and older.

So the key point is to know your clients, and know them well, because the last thing you want is for a teenager to keep pestering his or her parents with the proverbial, “are we there yet?” when in fact the passing scenery while cruising on the river itself is just as delightful for any river cruise passenger as the visits to the ports of call.

Viking Longship sailing past the town of Durnstein.

Viking Longship sailing past the town of Durnstein.

history comes alive

Imagine gliding past green-draped mountains with castles perched on cliffs. Watching shepherds herding their sheep right along the riverbanks. Having small medieval villages appear seemingly out of nowhere after a bend in the river. As one passenger said to us, “Pinch me, because I can’t believe this is real.” Fairytale landscape? You better believe it—this is the real deal. Sailing on the Danube is truly indescribable because the sheer beauty is so utterly over the top that no adjective can adequately illustrate the magnificence that this region displays.

Our itinerary made its way from Nuremberg to Budapest, and each day brought new surprises that left us awestruck and enchanted: There was Nuremberg and its Nazi history—words do little to depict the feeling that overcomes one when they stand in the shadow of where Hitler once stood; Regensburg, a picturesque, 2,000-year-old town where Bavarian history is alive and well and intermingles easily with contemporary times; Passau, with its cathedral whose intricate baroque interior is an explosion of art difficult to digest in just one viewing; Melk and its world-famous Abbey, whose library was the inspiration for Umberto Eco’s novel, “The Name of the Rose”; the Wachau Valley, a UNESCO World Heritage site that offers up a trove of wine-growing market towns, gothic churches and a handful of ruined castles, including the very one in which King Richard the Lionheart was imprisoned back in the 12th century by Duke Leopold V; Vienna, with its plethora of museums, one more impressive than the next; and Budapest, a city whose architecture leaves you breathless and its youthful energy breathes new life into you. Of course, this is only a fraction of what we discovered and what your clients will see as they make their way through Germany, Austria and Hungary, but if you send clients with teenagers on this itinerary, let us point out a few things that we discovered along the way. The included tours that give passengers a taste of the city are great, although sometimes, yes, kids do run out of patience. We partook in the tours at each port until we felt we got the lay of the land and then went off exploring on our own. Before disembarkation, guests can grab a map on board that gives them a good sense of the town or city.

As Marnell points out, “The Romantic Danube itinerary provides the traveler with a truly immersive experience including grand cities and quaint villages along the celebrated Danube River.”

What not to miss? Well, in Nuremberg, recommend clients do like the tourists and turn the ring three times at the plaza’s exceedingly gorgeous fountain (if they are on a summertime sailing, don’t miss a treat at one of the ice cream shops). In Passau, a must is the organ concert (it’s short and unbelievable). Do not miss—no matter how early departure time might be for sleepyhead teenagers—the Melk Abbey tour; its history is unique and its library and gardens are a sight to behold. In Regensburg, cross the town’s famous bridge and explore the “younger” part of town (little hidden gems await). In Passau, cross through the town, passing multicolored gardens along the way, to the other side where the Inn River awaits (there’s a charming park lining the river and a bench or two seemingly waiting for your clients). In Vienna, best to skip the Mozart concert that is offered upon arrival that first evening and head straight to the very famous Vienna Ferris wheel, the Riesenrad, which is part of a larger amusement park, the Prater. And in Budapest, tell clients to board the funicular for a ride up to the old castle district with the Fisherman’s Bastion and Matthias Church and for spectacular views of the city.

Dwain Wall, senior v.p. and general manager of CruiseOne and Cruises Inc., says, “I actually think that the river cruise experience is a great family experience. We need to teach our kids history and this is a great way to teach them in a live environment. It’s like having a classroom along on your vacation…and you’ll have speakers on board; you can visit museums. River cruising is about experiencing the destination…it’s about where you are, not so much about the ships.”

Views over Budapest.

Views over Budapest.

about those ships, though

You know all about Viking’s well-received Longships—we’ve written about them often enough in the pages of Recommend—so I won’t bore you with all the details, although…. It is lovely to sit in the Aquavit Terrace and view the green-draped terraced vineyards while sailing through the Wachua Valley. The attention to detail in everything from the well-serviced staterooms to the cookies and muffins always on hand at the self-service coffee and tea station is supreme. The crew bestows some of the most personable and friendly service we’ve ever encountered—ask for it, and your clients shall receive. The cuisine is mouthwatering and there are, we’d like to point out, a broad range for all tastes, including gluten free and vegan items (if there isn’t, they’ll whip it up). Also, it’s pleasantly surprising to be able to access WiFi from time to time, although its unreliability is a good thing while on vacation.

Yes, the Viking Longships, which accommodate 190 passengers in 95 staterooms, including two Explorer Suites, seven 2-room Veranda Suites, 39 Veranda Staterooms and 22 French Balcony Staterooms, are state of the art, and as Consoli points out, “Viking has clearly made a niche for themselves with the Longships and have the newest hardware on the river. My clients have responded very favorably to the Veranda cabins, to having a private verandah.”

What we’d like to point out regarding the onboard time is that although we approached this voyage thinking that the time sailing along the river would be a bit of a struggle, for lack of a better word, for teenagers, it was actually amusing to find that she delighted in the several onboard activities that gave a taste of the countries we were sailing through, including German Tea Time, a discussion about German etiquette and another one on Vienna coffeehouses, and she was practically gleeful when the ship passed through the many locks along the river.

Do warn families with teenagers, though, that things start early on board the river cruises—this vacation is not made for sleeping in. Tours start in the early morning, and maid service is the earliest I’ve ever seen (of course, passengers will not be bothered if they wish to sleep in, but when Budapest awaits, who wants to sleep in?).

Hellbrunn Palace in Austria.

Hellbrunn Palace in Austria.

travel agents, take note

Viking Cruises has ordered more river ships for 2014, bringing the total number of new ships launching in 2014 from 12 to 14. That means that by the end of 2014, Viking will have introduced a total of 30 new ships in a 3-year period, and by the end of the year, Viking will have 48 river vessels in Europe. The 14 new ships, incidentally, will sail Viking’s most popular itineraries in the region. “Three,” says Marnell “will be deployed in France, and we have added a fabulous new itinerary in Bordeaux, the 8-day Chateaux, Rivers & Wine itinerary, a leisurely, food- and wine-filled cruise. It’s an absolute dream for foodies and oenophiles. Additionally, we are adding two new vessels on our popular Douro itinerary in Portugal and Spain, and a new vessel on the Irrawaddy for our Myanmar itinerary, which is also new for 2014.” He adds that in 2013 alone, Viking “is hosting 40 percent-plus more passengers than we did last year—with the vast majority sailing on our new Longships in Europe.”

tauck’s family sailing & more

“Agents should absolutely be tapping into the family river cruise market, for a number of reasons,” says Tom Armstrong, corporate communications manager for Tauck. “For one, river cruising is great because you don’t have to pack and unpack your bags multiple times over the course of a trip. That’s a convenient selling point for any traveler, but when an agent is talking to a mom and/or dad responsible for packing up a couple of kids, it’s an even more powerful motivator. Equally important, river cruise lines are really beginning to cater to the family market. For example, Tauck offered the first-ever river cruises designed specifically for families several years ago on the Danube, and this year we’ve introduced an all-new family river cruise on the Rhone. Finally, and compared to ocean cruises, river cruises offer greater opportunities for fun, education and enrichment because you’re traveling right through the heart of each destination, with more opportunities for shore excursions.” Armstrong adds that as more and more families realize that there are family-based itineraries available, multigenerational river cruising will continue to grow.

Take, for instance, Tauck’s 8-day Blue Danube: Family Riverboat Adventure on board the Swiss Jewel. Family-focused activities include playing medieval games on a visit to Devin Castle in Slovakia; soaring over Vienna on the Ferris wheel in the Prater; learning how to make strudel aboard the riverboat; visiting Schonbrunn Palace, where Empress Maria Theresa and her daughter Marie Antoinette once called home; bicycling along the Danube and discovering tricky secrets—and “The Sound of Music” locations—at Schloss Hellbrunn in Salzburg, and making tasty marzipan creations. Rates start at $3,690 and departures are available from June to August 2014.

In addition to its family cruises, Tauck has a few new goodies for 2014, including its first-ever sailing on the Seine. There’s the 10-day Rendezvous on the Seine, from $4,590 pp plus air that includes a 2-night hotel stay in Paris with guided sightseeing, as well as the 14-day Cruising the Seine Plus Versailles, Paris & London, which includes 2-night hotel stays at Versailles and at The Savoy London, with guided sightseeing.
(800) 788-7885; agent.tauck.com

Archived related articles (available on recommend.com/magazine/issue-archive):
Viking Aegir (May 2013)

contact information
Viking Cruises: (866) 200-2012; vikingrivercruises.com or vikingrivercruises.com/agents/index.aspx