The Douro River is host to Viking River Cruises Portugal’s Rivers of Gold itinerary that sails round-trip from Porto past vineyards, olive groves and almond trees. Culturally curious travelers on the 8-day itinerary enjoy the journey in the comfort of shiny new Viking ships, custom-built to get the most out of the river. On an included tour with Viking’s locally sourced guide, we saw enough of the embarkation port to know this is one special travel opportunity, worthy of the savviest traveler. But ships are ships, rivers are rivers and what sets Viking apart from other river cruise lines operating in the area is not their state-of-the-art modified longships.
As we have seen on big ships, little ships and every cruise line in-between, people make the difference and Viking’s crew members seal the deal; every single time. These are professionals, the lion’s share of which come from the area their ship services. They’re not far from home. That alone is one huge reason why they get the job done and exceed traveler expectations where others fail. Add that those Viking crews are employees, not contract workers taken far from home, and we begin to see marvelous things happen on the rivers they sail. Throw in benefits and a retirement plan, something no other cruise line does, and we begin to understand the commitment Viking has to them as family.
We sailed with Viking recently on a whirlwind week of christening ceremonies that saw a blur of events, some reported along the way, others yet to come. In Avignon, France Viking broke their own Guinness record for the most ships launched in one day (18 if you weren’t paying attention). Introducing a special Bordeaux sailing themed Wine, Rivers and Chateaux, we sampled some of the places Viking passengers might visit (in awe). Flying to Portugal for the launch of two modified ships inspired by the popular Viking longships, we saw Viking leadership making a firm commitment to support the local economy (as they do wherever they sail).
In this photo gallery, we see a sampling of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites included on the itinerary. These are documented, rock-solid lifetime memory-quality places; bucket list line items. We could come to Portugal, visit those places and come away with a good quality travel experience. What we don’t see in this gallery are the Viking crew that make such a solid difference in that experience. That will be the worthy subject of an upcoming post.
Quick story to drive home that point:
On our Viking Christmas Markets sailing we were impressed with the caring nature of the crew on board Viking Skadi, just as we had been on our Grand European Tour the summer before on Viking Odin. Still, I could not help but ask as we sailed along our way if we would ever dock at the same place Viking Odin did, so I could perhaps see those crewmembers again. They are just that good; every single one of them.
In Portugal on the Douro River, far away from the Danube and Rhine we had sailed before, I was equally impressed with the crew of Viking Hemming. In that part of the world again some day, I’ll probably hope to see them again too. Not because they might remember me, reason enough for ocean cruise travelers to sail the same ship time and time again, but because I will remember them. By name. As an integral part of the experience. We don’t get that often.
As you look through these photos, please remember that while Viking ships visit iconic destinations around the world, it’s their people that make the difference.
At a press conference held during this inaugural event, plainspoken Viking Chairman Torstein Hagan zeroed in on why this cruise line is so very successful, saying “We can’t be everything to everyone,” something I think other cruise lines try but fail to do
Long-time readers and friends, those who go back a decade or so when big ship lines were becoming a mainstream travel option, will remember when they too followed that uber-simple formula for success. At the time, I fell in love with cruise travel and vowed to spread the word of it to others so they could experience it too. We did that and continue to do so today. Big ship cruise lines still have a very viable place.
Coming up, we’ll break down the individual elements of a river cruise then add them up again and compare to ocean sailings. Going inside cruise vacations as we do, I think you’re going to like the results.