Cruise

Viking River Cruises’ Viking Sky

written by | Posted on January 1st, 2011

Many of the vessels, workhorse or pleasure-bent, that daily parade the Danube River are purpose-built long and low, the better to skim beneath bridges and slip tidily through locks.

Viking Sky is no exception, its sleek dimensions designed to comfortably accommodate passengers in pleasant staterooms and suites, with plenty of room left over for airy public areas. Not to mention the ship-long sun deck that famously serves up 360-degree scenic splendors, sometimes so close that cruisers can almost—well, seemingly—reach out and touch them from their kick-back lounge chairs, or while leaning on the rail with sunrise coffee or sunset cocktail at the ready.

Recommend recently joined a week-long adventure—a new itinerary aptly dubbed Danube Waltz featuring a full-day excursion to Salzburg—that made port calls in Germany, Austria, Slovakia and Hungary along the storied river rippled with shades of silver-green. (Um…blue? Not so much. “Only in the waltz is the Danube blue,” notes a Vienna native.) Which in no way diminishes the enjoyment of either the history-rich waterway or the beloved Strauss three-quarter-time melody that made it immortal. The compelling ports of call: Passau, Linz, Melk, Durnstein, Vienna, Bratislava, and Budapest.

The ship itself is laid out to showcase the Old World wonders that beckon around every bend, an asset that will be appreciated by clients again and again, such as when they glide through Austria’s stunning Wachau Valley. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage site, thickly wooded, dotted with charming towns—here a flourishing vineyard, there a fairy tale castle.

Action central for indoor viewing (the sun deck draws crowds on balmy days) is the spacious, window-wreathed Viking Lounge, the gathering place for an early-riser continental breakfast, afternoon tea, cocktail hour (a single musician manages to make a big sound) including the captain’s cocktail parties, daily briefings on the next day’s program, after-dinner drinks, and the occasional late-night snack. A light lunch buffet is often set up here. There’s a bar, plus a station where traffic is nonstop thanks to a machine that produces round-the-clock regular and specialty coffees, tea, and hot chocolate.

The lounge is also the setting for lectures—on this trip an update on the European Union, plus a presentation about the life and works of Mozart—and demonstrations such as a delicious presentation on how to make a proper apple strudel.

More wide-window vistas—and more culinary treats—await in the Viking Restaurant on Deck One (an elevator is handy), where dining decor and tasty fare are themed to the season or the region. Bavarian specialties reign, for example, as the ship navigates Germany. Clients who choose a late-fall journey can count on a dinner accented by Halloween decorations and such menu highlights as pumpkin curry soup and homemade pumpkin cake. On “International” night the cuisine ranges from hummus to salade Nicoise, borscht to sweet-and-sour pork.

Along with a sizable salad bar, table service via a polished and attentive wait staff is also on tap at lunch, while breakfast spreads a generous buffet with additional hot items trotted out from the galley on order. Open seating is the rule at all meals, which means that cruisers quickly become acquainted. No room service is available.

A highly popular new policy was launched this year: complimentary wines with dinner. Also available is a beverage package (150 euros; approximately $196) that includes house brands at the bar, soft drinks, and other items.

As in the restaurant, the live entertainment menu in the lounge takes its cues from the regions traveled. On the last night, for example, the lounge rocked with Hungarian gypsy music complete with costumed folk dancers, performers who boarded at Budapest.

At the aft end of Deck Three is the library with a modest book collection tucked into a corner—a peaceful retreat with chairs and tables for cards, puzzles and board games. Steps away is a fitness room with a sauna that passengers can reserve—which means the fitness facility is often locked for privacy when the sauna is in use.

Display cases show off the array of good-looking jewelry and gifts sold aboard along with logoed souvenirs. Since the reception desk is staffed around the clock, shopping is possible at, say, 3 a.m., should a cruiser feel the urge to splurge.