Historians tell us the Age of Exploration officially began in the early 15th century as Europeans began exploring the world by sea. Into the 17th century, their travels significantly helped in the advancement of geographic knowledge. Also known as the Age of Discovery, this time in world history ended as advances in technology enabled traveling the world easily by sea. Ingrained in the development of itineraries for Viking River Cruises is much of that same exploration and discovery spirit, witnessed by two new Viking river and land itineraries for 2015.
In the Summer of 2013, I sailed with Viking River Cruises on the Grand European Tour itinerary, a 15-day journey from Budapest to Amsterdam aboard Viking Odin. Visiting 4 countries along the way, Viking’s seamless package included 12 guided tours and plenty of time for getting to know fellow travelers, one of the best parts of the shared experience. For 2015, Viking continues the 15-day Grand European Tour and builds on its popularity by adding 4 more days on a new itinerary.
The 19-day Grand European Tour & Belgium continues the spirit of exploration bringing 6 countries and 16 guided tours in a unique combination. Sort of like adding a pre-cruise land package, the new 19-day package begins with 2 nights each in the medieval jewel of Belgian Ghent and among the canal-lined lanes of Dutch Amsterdam. Unlike a pre-cruise hotel stay, the four nights before boarding your Viking Longship include planned tours, carefully orchestrated as Viking so masterfully does with Viking-vetted local guides and the Program Director we would normally not meet until arrival on the ship.
With airport meet & greet transfers included when air is purchased from Viking River Cruises, culturally curious travelers arrive at the Brussels airport, then transfer to a hotel in Ghent, enjoying the Belgian countryside along the way. After check-in, the afternoon is yours to relax and adjust to the time change or explore the city on your own. We like to stay up, enjoy the hotel and order room service before retiring for the evening. That pretty much gets us over the jetlag with little effort. On the19-day Grand European Tour & Belgium there is no rush to explore Ghent as the itinerary will include a walking tour before moving on to Amsterdam.
The next day, based in Ghent, a tour takes travelers to Bruges, about a 45 minute motorcoach away. On tour, an included city walk visits the Church of Our Lady, with Michelangelo’s famous Madonna and Child; the Béguinage, a medieval monastery painted by Sir Winston Churchill; and the town’s scenic network of canals. The afternoon brings free time to explore one of the city’s exciting art museums, such as the Groeninge or Gruuthuze Museums, shop or enjoying a cold glass of artisanal Belgian beer while watching the world go by on the great market square, one of our very most favorite activities. That night is the second in the Ghent hotel and an on-site Viking concierge can suggest interesting places for dinner.
In the morning of the third day, Viking travelers check out of the hotel and their luggage is loaded on a secure Viking motorcoach. Just after that, they join a guided walking tour of Ghent, a beautiful city on the Scheldt River with a long and colorful history. There will be time for finding a nice place for lunch before, heading north to the Dutch capital of Amsterdam where they check into a nice hotel and enjoy an evening at leisure.
Day four brings a canal tour of Amsterdam in the morning and afternoon time to visit the Anne Frank House, see the Van Gogh Museum, the renovated Rijksmuseum with its marvelous collection of Dutch Masters, or to just explore the city which all quite safe and walkable.
Day five features free time in Amsterdam before boarding your Viking Longship for embarkation. At that point the itinerary aligns with the classic Grand European tour, sailing to Kinderdijk to see windmills before stopping in Cologne, Germany then Koblenz and the Middle Rhine followed by the popular German towns of Miltenberg, Wurzburg, Bamberg, Nuremberg, Regensburg and Passau. Crossing into Austria, the 19-day Grand European Tour & Belgium visits Melk & Krems one day then Vienna the next. On the way to an overnight stay in Budapest, your Viking Longship will visit one of my favorite places on the Danube; Bratislava, Slovakia.
I like the look of this itinerary for a couple of reasons:
- After coming in to Nuremberg one day early for our 2014 Christmas Markets Cruise, we’re sold on the idea of getting ‘travel day’ behind us. Thinking of this package as a four-night pre-cruise extension blows travel day fatigue away.
- Better than a pre-cruise package which basically includes the hotel, services of an on-site Viking concierge, breakfast and transfer to the ship, this looks to be a much richer experience.
- Sort of like sailing with Viking but without the ship, culturally curious travelers get even deeper into the destinations.
- In a way, this is the best of both worlds, featuring a land tour and a river cruise.
Booking suggestion: Let Viking handle all of it; air, transfer and cruise. This not required and travelers can indeed book their own air, perhaps because they have a ton of reward points that bring free flights. They can also add on Viking transfers that put them in the capable hands of Viking as soon as they arrive. Still, Viking air prices are competitive and, right now, feature $500 off the price of airfare if booked by January 31 (Ask for offer 04)
Another new itinerary, The Imperial Cities Of Europe is a 12-day tour of three countries that begins in Berlin and ends in Budapest. A core experience similar to the Romantic Danube itinerary we enjoyed for our 2014 Christmas Markets sailing beginning in Nuremberg and ends in Budapest, this one adds 2 nights each in Berlin and Dresden. More on that one next. For now, this recent Viking video brings a nice snapshot of European history from WWII to the European Union of today.