UP CLOSE WITH HISTORY
Coming up in July, we sail with Viking River Cruises on a 10-day river cruise sailing titled the Elegant Elbe. There are a whole lot of things to like about this unique itinerary that takes us from Prague to Berlin. Sailing on Viking Longship Beyla a unique vessel inspired by the Viking Longships we have come to know and love, the ship itself will be a story. Included hotel stays on the front and back end stray from the “unpack once, visit multiple destination” mantra of cruising in general and we’ll explore that notion as well. Sailing in Germany for the most part, we’ll be there in the Summer when German sausages and beer are nearly an attraction of their own. That will be a special treat for Lisa who has been to and loved Germany in the Winter and I’m looking forward to sharing that experience with her as well. Viking’s own description of the voyage is a great place to start our preparation and that begins here.
Viking Elegant Elbe:The Expectation
“Discover the natural beauty of former East Germany’s dramatic landscape on a 10-day Elbe River cruise,” says Viking on their website, rich with pre-cruise information that we have learned to study before the trip begins. Simply put: Traveling with Viking with a bit of preparation easily doubles the enjoyment factor as opposed to merely arriving at the point of embarkation, expecting to be shown a good time. Viking will indeed show us a good time but the difference between ‘a good time’ and ‘a life-changing travel event’ seems to be in having one’s head in the right place in advance of sailing. That’s something Viking makes extremely easy with their online resources and pre-cruise documentation sent well in advance.
Breaking down the expectation, Viking continues with “Tour the opulent palaces of Saxon monarchs and stroll through beautifully landscaped gardens; sail between the dramatic sandstone cliffs of Germany’s “Saxon Switzerland.” Marvel at the baroque splendor of Dresden and see how Meissenware porcelain is produced. Walk in the footsteps of Martin Luther in historic Wittenberg and learn about the Protestant Reformation. Your journey is bookended by one night in multicultural Berlin and one night in graceful Prague.” Sounds interesting yes? More interesting is that this description is often scanned rather than digested. We found that out first-hand on last year’s Portraits of Southern France itinerary that ended in Beaune, a lovely place that had deep meaning for Lisa once there.
Highly Recommended: Before beginning a Viking River Cruise, devour all information available on the Viking River Cruises website, especially applicable video as well as pre-cruise information sent with travel documents. We have found that the actual experience we enjoy on Viking River Cruises very much matches the expectation they set in advance.
Continuing that pre-cruise research, let’s take a look at the ship.
Viking Elegant Elbe: Viking Longship Beyla
To sail on the Elbe, Viking had to design a ship that would work on a river not as deep or wide as the rivers sailed by a standard Viking Longship. Still, new Viking Beyla has all the amenities of the popular Viking Longships, including:
Different from a standard Viking Longship, Viking Beyla is smaller and has two passenger decks and a total capacity of 98 guests and a crew of 28.
Viking Elegant Elbe: Getting There
To get there, we fly overnight from Orlando to Frankfurt on Lufthansa airlines, departing about 8PM from Florida and arriving in Germany just before 11AM. That might seem like an awfully long flight but there is a 6 hour time difference we absorb in flight. We have found a number of methods that help us adjust to the time difference and often arrive in Europe a bit thrown off by tine but not to the point of disrupting our travel experience. Here is what to expect and some ways to deal with international flights that work very well for us.
Once the aircraft has taken off and reached cruising altitude on an international flight, service begins. Expect the flight crew to first come through with a warm towel to wash hands, followed by beverages and a snack of some sort. Next will be dinner, followed by another swing through the cabin with drinks before lights go out for the overnight flight. The process is similar regardless of which part of the aircraft one has booked. Still, there are a few actions occasional travelers can take to make the process smoother, the flight more enjoyable and help adjusting to the time difference in Europe easier.
- Order A Special Meal- Airlines offer even occasional travelers the ability to order a special meal other than the customary chicken, beef or perhaps pasta selections generally offered to everyone else. Occasional travelers with special dietary needs need to take them up on that offer for sure. But other travelers, those who want to avoid a type of food that may keep them from sleeping well, can take advantage of this offering as well. Low-Fat, Vegan, Kosher, Fruit-only and other selections are possible when made in advance. Try to do that a couple weeks before flight then check that reservation again at one week prior to flight to be sure your request stuck in the airline system. A bonus: Those with special meal requests are usually served first.
- Skip The Alcohol- As much as the complimentary alcoholic beverages may seem like a great idea when flying internationally, alcohol is also a whole lot of sugar that can come back to hinder efforts to sleep on the plane. This was a very difficult move for me to make but one that absolutely paid off. After an international flight, I hit the ground running and have little if no jet lag issues if I was able to sleep on the flight. For me, that seems to be the key. Rolling into sleep in a way as close to how we do it on land, when in the air, has a huge effect on the first day or two overseas.
- Get Comfy- Bring comfortable socks, take off your shoes and perhaps wear a comfortable outfit or change into one as soon as possible after becoming airborne. Adjust overhead air vents to a comfortable position. If by chance there is a person coughing extraordinarily on the other side of the aircraft, point that air in their direction to help keep germs away.
- Have A Flight Bag (or the above mentioned flight vest) that has everything you will need during the flight contained in it. Include medications needed before landing, hand sanitizer, whatever you will be entertaining yourself with, smartphone, headphones, etc. The point is to avoid going into your carryon luggage at all, for any reason.
Viking Elegant Elbe: Our Arrival In Germany
Once in Frankfurt, we change planes and have a short, one hour flight to Prague. We don’t check luggage but we go to the baggage claim area and exit there where we will see a Viking River Cruises representative who will take us to our pre-cruise hotel, close by The Hilton Prague to begin our itinerary. At the hotel, if our rooms are ready (they probably will be) we will check in and find the first grilled bratwurst and German beer opportunity of our trip, something we will no doubt repeat often throughout the adventure. Here is the rest of our itinerary:
- Day 1 | Prague, Czech Republic
- Day 2 | Prague & Melnik, Czech Republic
- Day 3 | Litoměřice, Czech Republic
- Day 4 | Saxon Switzerland, Germany
- Day 5 | Dresden, Germany
- Day 6 | Meissen & Torgau, Germany
- Day 7 | Wittenberg, Germany
- Day 8 | Wittenberg & Magdeburg, Germany
- Day 9 | Potsdam & Berlin, Germany
- Day 10 | Berlin, Germany
Viking Elegant Elbe: Exploring The Nature Of Travel Too
All of the above is a bit dependent on the weather though. A recent statement on the Viking River Cruises website highlights possible disruption to our itinerary:
In Germany the Elbe River is currently experiencing water levels that are lower than usual. This has impacted navigation and resulted in some modifications to the itinerary schedules of current sailings.
While there is some rainfall predicted in certain parts of the region, there is still some concern that guests whose Elegant Elbe cruisetour begin this week may also experience some necessary itinerary alterations. However, because situations involving water levels are dynamic and can change by the hour it is not possible to predict at this time how these cruisetours will unfold.
Viking’s Switzerland-based nautical and operations teams, along with a network of local partners and authorities, continue to monitor the situation closely. Should conditions change and additional alterations become necessary, we will continue to inform impacted guests as soon as we are aware of any itinerary fluctuations.
This sort of disruption happens from time to time due to water levels being either too low (like now) or too high. Too low and ships can not continue. When ships are christened one of the common parts of the blessing is a hope that there will “always be a hands-width of water beneath the keel”. Without that, ships go no where. High water is equally disruptive as ships can not pass under bridges. In either case, going through locks is difficult and your river cruise morphs into something equally engaging but via some other means of transportation, usually a Viking motorcoach. This is not a new phenomenon. Viking has backup plans for everything and implements them with great precision to insure a quality travel experience.
Frankly, most river cruises do have some sort of alteration to the itinerary and/or how the itinerary plays out in real life is not exactly what one expects. That’s the nature of river travel. Unlike a swing through the Caribbean that stops in Cozumel, Grand Cayman and Nassau like clockwork, other factors come into play such as weather-related disruptions. Experiencing those disruptions the first time, it might seem a bit odd as one thinks “The river is too high? It’s not raining” but what happens up river comes down river with positive or negative effects on we travelers.
A couple summers ago, I was on Viking’s Grand European Tour sailing from Budapest to Amsterdam a month after high water had flooded much of the area and made river travel impossible. It was amazing to me how quickly the mess had been cleaned up all along the river.
Regardless of how the itinerary goes, we’ll end with an overnight in Berlin, Germany at the Steigenberger Hotel am Kanzeleramt, a five-star property which looks just wonderful. Coming back we’re with United Airlines for a morning flight with time in our favor on the return, leaving Berlin just before 10AM, we arrive in Newark just before Noon. There, we have some time on our hands which might include a trip to a good bagel store before a 5PM departure that gets us back home about 8PM
All of the above is subject to change as is the nature of travel. We like that.