By Kenneth Paul Mink
PARIS — This summer I joined thousands of people for a Viking river cruise in Europe.
What I discovered was that the trip was truly mislabeled. It should have been billed as a “Viking River/Bus Tour.”
I had the impression my wife and I and 159 others who signed up for the “City of Lights Tour – Paris to Luxembourg to Heidelberg to Prague and back to Paris” – would be spending most of our time on the cruise boat on three major rivers.
I had not counted on spending hundreds of miles riding busses from city to city and country to country. And many additional bus hours from city to boat.
I knew there would be SOME bus transportation along the way, but NOT THIS MUCH!
I estimated we spent almost as much time on streets and highways as we did on waterways – taking into consideration we spent most our water travel time at night, when no one could see anything anyway.
I don’t think Viking deliberately misled its customers, it just understated the time travelers had to spend on busses and walking excursion tours.
First off, our group landed in Paris, where we were taken on a guided tour (bus, naturally) and had a little free time on our own — before taking about a four-hour bus ride to Luxembourg the third day.
From there, it was a series of short boat rides from one small French or German village or town to another, with shore excursions at each stop. Soon, one cobblestone street town started looking just like another.
Some had decent charm, but most were basic tourist traps. We were taken on one castle tour after another and I was soon “castled out.” Several of the castles were quite ornate, but I had trouble appreciating their beauty when I realized such lavish surroundings were paid for by the blood, sweat and tears of the poor people of the kingdom. As far as I am concerned King Louie the 16th and Marie Antoinette got what they deserved as well as other Royals who lost their heads due to their selfishness and greed.
Many of the castles and palaces we toured were billed as having beautiful floral gardens, but I found them to be rather simplistic and paled compared to many hundreds of beautiful public gardens in the U. S.
In my view the most worthwhile side excursion on this trip was a visit to the American GI cemetery near Luxembourg, where 5,704 soldiers from the Battle of the Bulge are buried. Lying at the head of the hundreds of rows of gleaming white tombstones is the grave of famed Gen. George S. Patton.
The views from the riverboat – except for about one four hour ride down the Rhine – were less than spectacular. During one large segment on the river all we could see on either side were miles and miles of hillside vineries. We must have seen a million grape vines. It got to the point I never wanted to see another grape.
I signed up for a lower deck cabin, saving about a thousand bucks over upper level decks. Our lower deck cabin was small, but it was designed very efficiently, with plenty of room to store all our gear. The cabin also had a long horizontal window about four feet off the floor, providing a decent view.
The cruise food more than met our expectations, with a bountiful breakfast and lunch buffet and good four-course meals in the evenings. And all the wine or beer you could drink.
Viking was also very efficient in getting our luggage moved from point during the entire trip.