Viking Tialfi Cruise Review by greydog
- Sail Date: December 2018
- Destination: Europe River
- Cabin Type: Deluxe Stateroom
Our TA had advised that the Rhine river was particularly scenic with hills and medieval castle ruins (nearly 40). The Rhine also has a heavy volume of commercial ships rushing close by at 12 knots when we were docked at the riverside. The first port’s guided visit let those inclined climb up the interior of a 500-year-old family-managed windmill. Included guided tours featured the Cologne and the Strasbourg Cathedrals and the 11th century Marksburg castle. The guided tour to the romantic Heidelberg Castle featured the world’s largest (58,000 gallons) wine barrel built in 1751.
This Viking trip was titled Rhine Christmas Markets offering the attraction of bright festively decorated specialty seasonal stores set up in town plazas. However, the port stops allowed visiting only during daylight hours. Some markets closed at 7pm. Staff were scrambling at the end in Basel to organize and store all the supplies, kitchenware, etc. because it was the last trip until late March 2019.
I’m a frequent Celebrity cruiser, sailing accompanied by my starter wife of 43 years, Joan. Even after all this time I’m still a little chagrined that her favorite song is Deanna Carter’s “Did I shave my legs for this?”
Some may have run into me since 2000 on past CC Celebrity roll calls and on board socials. Others on past Celebrity trips may have also crossed my path. If you overheard a woman telling her husband “Remember what happened the last time ….” – that was me! Alternatively, if you noticed a woman among other ladies saying “Now what’s he think he’s doing ….” – that was me! Advance message board “Roll Calls” are uncommon among the typically 150-200 passengers on a river trip.
I normally organizes a review under the “Miniskirt” rule (short enough to be interesting but long enough to cover what’s essential) Times have changed however. I will modify the advice of “Sing like no one is listening”, etc. and instead will write like no one is reading. So liberating.
The presence of only 180 passengers soon led to a comfortable relaxed familiarity among the predominantly active well-traveled 55-75-year-old couples (I’m sure the wives were much younger). On this trip I presume Mae West’s dictum that “good girls go to heaven, bad girls go everywhere.” did not apply. It’s rumored that Celebrity stopped publicizing ceremonies for the renewal of wedding vows after Guest Relations was flooded with hopeful individuals asking about expiration dates.
Many were first-time river cruisers also. I understand E. Hemmingway said he drank (a lot) in order to make other people interesting. We found everyone cordial and welcoming in the lounge and at shared dining tables (irrespective of my drinking). Brings to mind Paul Hornung’s statement “I read about the evils of drinking, so I gave up reading.” And M. Mokhonoana’s “Millions of deaths would not have happened if it weren’t for the consumption of alcohol. The same can be said about millions of births.”
The river ship held a safety orientation that was smaller scale than on ocean mega-ships. On ocean cruises, having grown up watching the Twilight Zone and X-files, I would look around my muster group hoping no one closely resembled William Bendix and/or Tallulah Bankhead.
Viking’s bottom-deck ‘river view’ and upper-deck veranda cabins are generally similar size and layout to Celebrity’s but neither inside cabins nor super-size suites are offered. Viking river ships are not outfitted for mobility impaired passengers. A non-mix Patron margarita was $8.
WIFI was free but laundry priced per item. For budget and packing convenience I brought light weight quick-dry polyester undershorts that I could wash in the sink using shampoo. I later realized a potential downside of combining liberal amounts of shampoo but limited hand rinsing. If I fell overboard, rescuers could be perplexed by a foaming crotch.
We had the lower deck standard cabin with long horizontal windows (“aquarium view”) at head height. The propeller sounds of from each of the many ships passing nearby were transmitted for 1-2 minutes through the hull. I planned to describe the passing propeller noise like briefly being within __ feet of a sloshing washing machine. So I tried to measure by sitting nearby but my wife had me to leave so she could do laundry. So the precise noise level remains as inexplicable as Al Capone’s secret vault room.
Other Viking features: adults only 18+, no smoking, no casino, no photographers, no art auction, no theatre shows, no formal nights. Daily attire for men featured blue jeans or chinos. Our trip had a pianist nightly in the lounge and two guest acts, a rock trio (Eagles, Beatles) and classical violin duo.
As some wag noted “Life expectancy would grow by leaps and bounds if green vegetables smelled as good as bacon.” And rotund Orson Welles weighed in “My doctor told me I had to stop throwing intimate dinners for four unless there are three other people.”
The food was available in a small casual buffet off the lounge or in the table-service dining room. Breakfast had the standard offerings including omelets to order and fresh breads, pastries. A self-serve fresh-grind Espresso/Cappucino machine was always available. There were fewer entrée choices but some local cuisine was included. In general, food was satisfactory and on par with Celebrity.
Spa services are based on the proposition “Time may be a healer, but it is no beautician.” Viking river fleet does not have fitness equipment or spa facilities. Their website’s FAQ reports that the ship’s Concierge can arrange access to partner facilities in many ports.
Dreary gray, foggy, chilly drizzle was common on the river route but most seem prepared. The universal recommendation to ‘wear layers’ to flexibly adjust was in order. It occurred to me that the ‘layering’ lesson had been disregarded to their detriment by the area’s Neanderthals. They might have survived if they had used a deer skin base layer, fashionably accented with a interwoven pastiche of muskrat pelts, with a final poncho-style bearskin outer-layer – snake skin belt optional. Of course, only dark bearskin after Labor Day.
It was too uncomfortable to use the topmost unsheltered viewing and lounging deck. Viking Tialfi did not have a pool but I saw a small lounging pool on a competitor’s river ship.
Unfavorable weather conditions lead to ‘Christmas Markets” trips being the least expensive of the season. It was $3,000 each for the ‘standard’ cabin but included round trip economy air (major US hubs), airport transfers, 2-4 hour guided tour at each port, free (slow) WIFI, house beer/wine with lunch/dinner. Balcony cabin fares jumped $1,000+ pp above standard but the weather precluded sitting out unless attired as recommended for a Neanderthal. A -$1,000 pp air credit applied if you provide your own travel. A Bayerische draught lager, a cabernet/merlot blend and a pleasant dry white Burgundy was included at meals. Suggested tips reached $190 for the cabin.
The wintry weather held a pleasant advantage - crowds in major tourist areas were low. Along with other sites, we noted that popular areas such as Lake Lucerne would be practically impassable in peak season. Our guide claimed that Marksburg Castle, Braubach has 6 million annual visitors. There were only a couple hundred tourists on the dreary day our ship’s tour visited.
River depth, noise vs Ocean
Water is not as deep (at least on Rhine) - no Poseidon catastrophe here – even Shelly Winters could clamber up the TWO decks to escape. Most long-haul river ships have three cabin decks with upper open sun deck for viewing. The floor of the lowest cabin deck is below the water line. I saw another new river ship with 5 decks and our Captain said it could only travel between two middle-Rhine cities because of low bridges.
Indeed, unusually high or low water levels for the Rhine can restrict ship travel. We learned that in a recent major drought, people could wade across the Rhine in some sections. Both Viking and Scenic offer a ‘water level guarantee’. They intend to bring another ship from the opposite direction to transfer passengers to bypass the unnavigable section. Refunds are offered if they can’t manage that substitution.
The lower Rhine is navigable because of numerous locks that each raise/lower a ship about 40 feet in about 10 minutes.
The river cruise spends each day in a town or city, traveling overnight – no relaxing sea-days. At worst, the river is choppy, so no sea sickness. At one point there was a long loop in the river so passengers were transferred to busses and rode 30 minutes into the city while the ship travelled 3.5 hours to catch up. This conserved time for the morning tours. Another time the ship pulled to the river edge to let 12 passengers embark on a paid tour – a drop-off taking only 20 minutes. All included walking tours provided individual ear-bud listening devices to hear the guide. The ship carried power-assist bicycles for use in ports.
Service was pleasant and attentive. The CD had 5 years prior ocean ship experience. The crew was predominantly from eastern Europe and seemed efficient and competent.
Lake Lucerne (2-day Viking guided extension)
Twenty of us were transferred from the Basel endpoint on a coach to Lake Lucerne’s elegant lakefront Hotel Schweizerhof. On arrival, most joined the guided 2-hour walking tour of the historic district. Viking stationed an concierge agent during the morning and afternoon for both days. On the third morning the included coach transfer left our hotel at 6am for Zurich airport to connect through Amsterdam to Atlanta. Others had later shuttle departures.
Many tree sellers were along the avenues – apparently its common there to buy trees just before Christmas day. We hoped to ride the 100+-year-old steam-drive side-paddle-wheel ferries but they were in for maintenance over winter. We visited a local museum, took long walks and retired early. In summer, many sail to ascend 7000-ft Mt. Pilatus using variety of cogwheel rail (world’s steepest), cable car and gondola.
A river cruise offers an attractive small-ship alternative to ocean cruises. A river cruise is more suitable to touring countries interior areas as opposed to coastal ports. A river cruise is more oriented to adults touring historic sights but provides only limited ancillaries like casinos, pools, and floor shows.
Since I’ve written like no one is reading, I’ll end with an Oscar Wilde remark “I don’t want to go to heaven – none of my friends are there.”
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