Cruising the Elbe River on Viking Cruise Line

Viking River Cruise ship in Europe
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I recently experienced two wonderful river cruise itineraries with Viking River Cruise Line.  They both marked my first experiences with Viking, as well as my first cruises on the Elbe and Rhone rivers.  
 
In August, I sailed the Elbe River onboard the Viking Beyla, one of two purpose-built ships designed specifically to sail the Elbe and the smallest ships in the Viking fleet. I sailed with 88 passengers (max 90) and 31 crew.  My cruise on the Rhone River was onboard the Viking Heimdal, one of Viking’s “Longships”, which holds 190 passengers and about 50 crew members.  The interior design on both ships was identical in style, the only difference being the size of the public areas. Both ships were impeccably clean!
 
I chose the Elbe River itinerary because, as a World War II buff, any itinerary that would include Berlin, Potsdam, Dresden and Torgau (Soviet and American troops met near Torgau – the war ended 13 days later) was a sure winner for me...and suffice to say that Viking is the only cruise line at this time sailing the Elbe.
 
The cruise is described by Viking as:
"A Journey to Berlin, Dresden and Prague: See the Elbe Biosphere Reserve. Walk in Martin Luther’s footsteps in Wittenberg, birthplace of the Protestant Reformation. Admire delicate Meissen porcelain. Celebrate Dresden, a phoenix risen from the ashes of war. View Saxon Switzerland’s monoliths. Discover Berlin’s modern chic, Potsdam’s rococo whimsy, Dessau’s Bauhaus genius and Prague’s Gothic exuberance. The Elbe is one of Europe’s most unspoiled rivers and it awaits you.”  
 
The Elbe River itinerary is quite all-inclusive, with few "optional" excursions offered.  The included shore excursions were well run, left on time and kept to the stated schedule.  Like most other rivers cruise lines, they offered a slow walker group, as well as a faster-paced group.  
 
The transfer from our starting point in Berlin to the ship was one of the many highlights of the trip.  A stop at the Glienicke Bridge, the true bridge featured in the recent movie “Bridge of Spies” was thrilling.  We were touching history between East and West Germany.                                            
 
I found the tour guides were generally very good.  How would I differentiate them from those I have experienced in other destinations?   The Viking guides gave basic information; others may give more detailed information.  For example, in Dresden where we remained docked for 3 nights due to low water levels, our guide explained that “the city was entirely demolished by firebombing by the allies in 1945.  Some buildings remained destroyed until the 1990’s because the East German government didn’t have the money to rebuild”.  I’m certain that a Tauck guide would have shared which squadron made the first run, that Great Britain was also involved in the bombing not just the USA, which is a common misbelief, and that there were 4 raids between the 13th and 15th of February 1945.   Would everyone have wanted to know these added details ...maybe not...but I would have liked more information than less.
 
My cabin was extremely small.  I experienced a 122-sq. foot space for two passengers.  There was no room for a chair...just a stool, and it could not fit between the beds.  The room was comfortable with one person sitting on the bed, but otherwise it was very tight.  Know your customers and qualify them. Anyone with an ounce of claustrophobia would not be comfortable in these cabins.  With that said, this stateroom category was not the lead-in category Viking uses to advertise.  That stateroom category has no large window like mine had. I would only recommend the larger staterooms on Viking.
                                 
The crew was very, very friendly and accommodating.  They could have easily been employed by any of the other river cruise lines I have experienced.  They were exceptional at listening and conveying a sincerity in their desire to resolve any conflicts or serve you in any way.  The best compliment I can give them is that they all seemed very happy in their work.  With that said, the cruise director was the one exception.  She was a young Czech woman and a bit short and impatient, and lacked the finesse to handle an American crowd.                                      
 
Viking offered very adequate menus...perhaps not as many choices as on other river cruise lines, but what was offered was very good.  Wines were not served from a carafe as I had heard. The waiters proudly displayed the wine bottles they were serving and proudly explained the type of wine and how it complimented the menu for that evening.  German night was very festive!