Vacation on the Romantic Danube with Viking River Cruises – Part I

by Nancy Mueller
( August 17th, 2015 )

Cathedral in Esztergom

If you’re like many wanderboomer fans of the PBS hit series, Downton Abbey, you’ve seen the sponsored commercials for Viking River Cruises, enticing you to explore exotic destinations from the deck of one of their deluxe ships. No doubt you have imagined yourself cruising down the Danube, Rhine or Seine Rivers, perhaps a glass of wine in hand, wistfully watching the world go by.

MAP_2016_RomanticDanube_956x690_tcm21-24396

Earlier this summer I had the chance to live the dream aboard a Viking River Cruises’ longship on an 8-Day Romantic Danube Tour from Budapest to Nuremberg. So did the experience live up to my dreamy-eyed vision of a European river cruise? Here’s what I discovered . . .

Exceptional Service

Viking River Cruises

My first clue of Viking River Cruises’ extraordinary customer care began with email correspondence from my Customized Travel Coordinator who arranged my flights and airport transfers. Days later I received a package containing a leather luggage tag and stickers, my personalized “Itinerary & Departure Information” booklet and a “Danube River Destination Guide” of site descriptions and fascinating facts about the art, history and culture of the sites on our itinerary.

Cap't. Oskar & Crew

And that was just for starters. Upon arrival, I was greeted at the airport by a Viking River Cruises’ host who cheerfully whisked me off to the ship without delay.

On board, the entire ship staff, from the Captain to Operations Manager and Reception, Cruise and Concierge Directors, Cabin Attendant, dining and culinary crew, deckhands and maintenance personnel ensured that we would indeed get to “Explore the World in Comfort,” as the company’s tagline promises.

Comfortable Surroundings with Panoramic Views

Viking River Cruises Veranda Stateroom

Wandercruisers have a range of cabin options available on Viking River Cruises. My veranda stateroom included a French balcony which I highly recommend for those moments when you want to enjoy river meanderings from the privacy of your own deck. Or for ultimate luxury, spring for the Explorer Suite with a private wrap-around veranda for 270° views.

The cabins come with ample storage for belongings, a comfortable bed, flat screen TV and premium entertainment package, plus plenty of personal touches, like fresh fruit and bottled water refreshed each day, a heated floor in the bathroom (with a superb hot shower and plush towels) and robe and slippers upon request.

For dining, we had the option of having a casual meal on the Aquavit Terrace with both indoor and outdoor viewing at the bow of the ship or the ship restaurant with more elaborate meal options and expansive river views.

The ship’s sundeck with shaded lounging area, walking track and putting green, proved to be a popular place with the 184 guests on board for river viewing, reading and sunbathing, while the bar and lounge area provided a relaxing, entertaining venue after daily excursions.

Sylvie - Viking River Cruises

The small library was a lovely spot to sit and browse through books that covered the regions along our cruise or to pick up a copy of the daily news: Britain Today, The Canadian or USA Times.

With so many places to explore on board, it didn’t take long for me to feel right at home.

Entertaining Programs

Before enjoying the many included and optional excursions on the cruise, we were treated to a variety of presentations designed to enhance our cultural experience. Captain Oskar answered questions about our ship, the Viking Longship Tor, while the culinary crew showed us how to make apple strudel.

We learned how to order coffee in Vienna as well as how to speak a few essential words and phrases in German. “Ein bier!” “Danke.” “Wo ist die toilette?”

Evening programs included local musicians playing tunes of the region and opera singers singing a medley of songs from well-known operas, creating a fun, festive atmosphere aboard the ship.

Delicious Cuisine

Kitchen Crew Viking River Cruises

Having delectable meals that reflected the regions we visited, combined with exceptional service from our kitchen and dining staff, made for memorable dining on our cruise.

Kitchen Staff Viking River Cruises

From first courses like a Hungarian Farmer’s Plate (salami, ham, mixed pickles and körözött, a spiced cheese dip)

Viking River Cruises

or Seared Quail with Asparagus Risotto with glazed cherry tomatoes, to main courses such as Zwiebelrostbraten (say that three times! Viennese roast beef) & Crisp Onions with mashed potatoes, onion sauce and pickled cucumber, or Grilled Marinated Perch with couscous, raisins and balsamic brown butter, accompanied by recommended regional wines, to desserts liked Crisp Dark Valrhona Chocolate Tart with mango salad or Esterhazy Cake, Linzer Torte or Warm Apple Hazelnut Crumble with malted whiskey ice cream,

Dessert on Viking River Cruises

the food was deliciously prepared and beautifully presented.

Fayth - Viking River Cruises

And for special requests and dietary needs, vegetarian options, cheese plates, Caesar Salad, Sauteed Salmon Fillet, Roast Chicken Breast and Seared Prime Rib Eye Steak were always available.

Niki - Viking River Cruises

Delightful Comaraderie

Comraderie with Viking River Cruises

When asking other guests what they liked most about the Viking River Cruises’ experience, I discovered that for many passengers having the chance to mix and mingle with the others on board was a definite highlight.

Larry & Gail on Viking River Cruises

The open-seating arrangement meant guests could sit anywhere we chose for each meal. I met couples and families from California, Arizona, South Dakota and Florida among other U.S. states, as well as from the U.K.

Excursions to Beautiful Destinations

Krems on the Danube - Viking River Cruises

Each evening we received a briefing about the next day’s coming attractions with suggestions for things to see and do in every location. Whether exploring ports of call independently or on guided tours, we enjoyed city overviews on foot and by bus, excursions to architectural treasures and historic sites, plus stops at popular eateries and outdoor markets.

For more on the wonders we witnessed on our 8-day cruise, stay tuned for Part II of my Romantic Danube Viking River Cruise!

Many thanks to Viking River Cruises for hosting my Romantic Danube experience.

Wander on!

Nancy

What about you, wanderboomers? Which Viking River Cruise would you like to take?

 

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How to Pack Light for Your Luxury Cruise Adventure

by Nancy Mueller
( August 5th, 2015 )

Pack Light

Over the last two years my mantra has been “Pack light. Pack light. Pack light.” I ditched my DSLR camera in favor of a small point-and-shoot, then scaled down further with an iPhone 6. I swapped out my paperbacks (because I could never just take one) for a Kindle. I gave up my clunky laptop in favor of a MacBook Air. And I replaced my trusty Travel Pro with a Traveler’s Choice Sedona 21” Spinner.

Even so, I’m still often asked how I manage to trot around the globe with only one TSA-approved carry-on bag and a personal item, e.g. handbag. Admittedly, some destinations are easier to pack for than others. Hawaii anyone? Just tuck in a couple of T-shirts, a few wrinkle-free dresses, flip flops and a bathing suit and you’re good to go for at least two weeks.

Pack Light Summer

When it came to packing for my 8-day European Viking Cruise earlier this summer, I toyed with the idea of checking a bag for the trip. But in the end, I stuck with my original resolve - to pack light and only take a carry-on bag and personal item, which as it turned out, worked just fine.

Pack Light Viking Cruise

To pack light for a value luxury cruise to a warm destination (Let’s skip Antarctica for now), here’s how I make the most of my carry-on bag and personal item – and how you can do it, too:

Travel outfit

  • Long jeans

  • Tank top

  • Long sweater

  • Scarf

  • Closed-toe shoes (also recommended for travel safety), i.e. tennis shoes which doubles as my walking and workout shoes (Travel tip: Wear your heaviest shoes rather than carry the weight in your luggage where they also take up too much room)

REI First Aid Kit

Packing List for 21” Carry-On Bag


Clothing     

  • Underwear

  • Nightie & robe

  • 4 Dresses

  • 2 pairs of pants

  • Yoga pants & top

  • 3 long-sleeved shirts

  • Light sweater

  • 2 tank tops

  • 8 pairs of sneaker socks

  • Rain jacket

  • 2 pairs of sandals

  • Flipflops

  • Bathing suit

Toiletries 

  • Make-up/remover wipes

  • Flat-iron

  • Contact lenses

  • Hand, body & facial lotion

  • Sunscreen

  • Razor

  • Toothbrush/toothpaste/floss

  • Deodorant

  • Comb & hairbrush

  • Hair ties

  • Q tips

  • Earplugs

  • Small sewing kit

  • Small manicure kit

Accessories

  • Sunhat

  • 3 Scarves

  • Costume jewelry

  • Small handbag

  • Small fold-up umbrella

First-aid Kit

  • Band-aids

  • Sterile gauze pads

  • Neosporin ointment

  • Lip balm

  • Eye drops

  • Antiseptic towelettes

  • Moleskin

  • Tiger balm

Personal Item (Baggallini Bag)

  • Kindle

  • MacBook Air

  • iPhone 6

  • iPod

  • Canon G-16 point-and-shoot

  • Hard drive back up for downloading images

  • 2 – 3 extra memory cards

  • Chargers/cords/extra batteries for first five items on list

  • International plug adapters

  • Notebook/journal and pens

  • Host/destination information

  • Travel documents/passport/driver’s license (Travel Tip: Carry copies of important documents and passport in a separate place, like your carry-on bag)

  • Small amount of cash and credit cards

  • Emergency contact information

  • Snacks: Power bars, dried fruit & nuts, dark chocolate :-)

  • Vitamins/medications

  • Sunglasses

  • Prescription glasses

  • Business cards

What I Wish I Had Packed

  • Light jacket

  • Small daypack

Q: What about shampoo and conditioner? Facial cleanser?
A: Since TSA applies the 3-1-1 Liquids Rule, i.e. each passenger is allowed 1 quart-sized, clear, plastic, zip-lock bag limited to 3.4 ounces or less of liquids, creams, gels, aerosols and pastes per container, and most travel carriers and/or destinations provide small toiletries, only carry the liquids you can’t live without.

Q: What if I want to bring home some souvenirs?
A: Remember: think light! Save the heavier souvenirs for shipping home or purchase on-line when you get home. Jewelry made by local artists, small packs of savory spices (like paprika from Hungary), scarves, CDs (Yes, some people still buy these) and sweets from the region all make lovely gifts.

Q: But how can I stay a fashionista with only two pairs of sandals, flipflops and tennis shoes?
A: Whatever you wear, wear with confidence!

In case you missed these previous posts on packing tips, check out:

Favorite Travel Items to Lighten Your Luggage – Part I
Pack Light with Favorite Travel Items - Part II

For more information, visit:
TSA Travel Information

Wander on!

Nancy

What about you, wanderboomers? What else should I add to my list?

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How to Make the Most of Your Great Escape to Charlevoix, Québec

by Nancy Mueller
( July 29th, 2015 )

Parc national des Grands-Jardins

The more I travel to Québec, Canada, the longer I want to stay . . . From following the culinary trail in Montréal, to celebrating Winter Carnival in Québec City, to sampling the restorative spas in Lanaudière and Mauricie . . .

For my latest exploration, I’m off to the charming Charlevoix region an hour northeast of Québec City for a few days of summer play. Infused with the natural beauty of a mountainous landscape, plus the immensity of the St. Lawrence River (Fleuve Saint-Laurent), the area attracts outdoor enthusiasts, art & culture lovers and passionate foodies.

Recreational adventures abound here – hiking, biking, kayaking, whale-watching, and star-gazing, with plenty of culinary discoveries and comfortable lodgings along the way – making Charlevoix, a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve, the perfect getaway for traveling solo, with friends or family.

Take a Hike and Discover the Via Ferrata.

Hotel Le Germain Charlevoix

After an overnight stay and tasty breakfast at Québec City’s Hôtel Royal William in the trendy New St-Roch district, we’re off on our road trip to discover the wonders of Charlevoix. Upon arrival, we drop our bags at Hôtel Le Germain Charlevoix, our home-away-from-home for the night. Contemporary in style, the hotel combines artistic, urban sophistication with country ambiance, in a nod to its cultural and historical roots.

Hiking Parc national des Grands-Jardins

Following a lunch that features flavors of the region, we head out for a light afternoon hike at Parc national des Grands-Jardins. My first clue that our planned activity entails a bit more than light hiking comes when we meet our guide who offers helmets and harnesses for our venture. Uh-oh.

Waivers signed, we start our hike, pausing occasionally to take in the spellbinding views and snap a few photos, and for some of us to catch our breath. Made it!

But wait – our guide leads us to the “Practice Rock,” the first step to the via ferrata circuit on the Mont du Lac des Cygnes. Uh-oh, again.

via ferrata Tourisme Quebec

Way too slowly, it dawns on me: Via ferrata. Translation: “Iron Way.” Ohhh. Now I get it. Mountain climbing, of sorts, with cables and clips and pegs, oh my! Where’s my high school French when I need it?

Willing to keep an open mind for the promise of spectacular views on a safe itinerary, I give it a go, but within a few upward steps, I learn my limit while translating the phrase, “Geez Louise” to my Quebecois host. Instead, I opt to take the trail back down to the lodge and wait for the others to follow. But for other wanderboomers in our group, the via ferrata proves irresistible. Challenging, sure, but ultimately rewarding. The rest of us applaud their accomplishment as we head to Le Saint-Pub Microbrewery in the heart of Baie-Saint-Paul to celebrate. Cheers!

Go Kayaking on Rivière du Gouffre.

With the new dawn comes a new adventure – river kayaking! After a short, hands-on demo on how to hold and use our paddles, our small group of single and double kayaks heads out on our 6 km (roughly 3.7 miles) expedition. Easy whitewaters and shallow waters make for a fun outing for novice and experienced kayakers alike as we descend down the Rivière du Gouffre to Baie-Saint-Paul.

A few beachings, seaweed entanglements and waves of laughter later, we thank our guide for the chance to explore beautiful Charlevoix from the water’s edge.

Bike Around Isle-aux-Coudres.

After a quick stop to pick up boxed lunches, we board the ferry to Isle-aux-Coudres for our next outdoor adventure, a bike tour of the island, with a few planned stops along the way. My Charlevoix host sets the pace on our tandem bike as we pedal along on the flat, country roads while enjoying the soft summer air and scenic views.

Before long we arrive at our first destination: Les Moulins de L’Isle-aux-Coudres, the unique site of an authentic working watermill, restored windmill and miller’s residence. We watch as guides demonstrate how wheat and buckwheat are ground into flour at the mill, explaining the process in both French and English.

All that biking worked up a thirst! Fortunately, we happen to be close to a cidery, Cidrerie Vergers Pedneault, the next stop on our island tour. Our cider tastings include several of the cidery’s award-winning artisan apple, pear, plum and Saskatoon berry products. Yum!

Discover Innovative Regional Cuisine.

Dining at Fairmont Le Manoir Richelieu

Charlevoix is a food lover’s paradise easily discovered by following the region’s Flavor Trail from Petite-Rivière-Saint-François to La Malbaie. Over 40 regional growers, producers and chefs welcome visitors along the trail with delicious gourmet treats like artisan breads and pastries, pates, charcuterie, chocolate, honey, duck, pork, cheese, ciders and beer.

Playing Golf at Fairmont Le Manoir Richelieu

After our afternoon adventure on the Isle-aux-Coudres, we check in at the historic Fairmont Le Manoir Richelieu overlooking the St. Lawrence River in La Malbaie. On site, we continue our regional and classical cuisine discoveries at Le Charlevoix Restaurant with Executive Chef, Patrick Turcot, who introduces us to delectable trout carpaccio from les Eboulements, pan-seared scallops and foie gras with calvados and apple crisp, seared crab salad and red pepper cream and maple salmon gravlax, puffed quinoa salad and roasted almonds. Time to go hiking, biking and kayaking again!

Enjoy a Night of Star-gazing.

What better evening entertainment than a star-gazing session at the Astronomy Observatory (Observatoire Astronomique)? In partnership with the Fairmont Le Manoir Richelieu, the observatory invites guests to search the skies with specialized telescopes under the guidance of scientifically-trained staff. Visitors can also take a self-guided tour of a scale model of the solar system by following a 3 km (just under 2 miles) trail along the St. Lawrence River.

Curious about the landscape and geology of the region? Through exhibits and lectures at the observatory, you can learn how the impact of a 15 billion tons’ meteorite that hit 350 million years ago created the mountainous character of Charlevoix.

Take a Whale-watching Zodiac Cruise.

Whale watching Quebec

On our last day in Charlevoix, we’re all suited-up in weather-resistant gear and ready to start our whale-watching adventure for the chance to see blue, fin, minke, humpback and beluga whales at play. In calm waters, before long we spot several seals near our boat while holding out hope for whale sightings. Success! Not only do we see several fin and minke, but our naturalist on board points to the horizon where a couple of belugas are swimming near shore. Moments later, a mama and baby beluga pass our zodiac where earlier we had watched one whale shoot towards our zodiac like a torpedo, only to veer away at the last moment. Wow.

Hop Aboard the Train Léger de Charlevoix.

Train Leger de Charlevoix

As we near the end of our Charlevoix journey, we have time for one more excursion before returning to Québec City: a rail cruise via The Charlevoix Light Rail Transit. Fun. Easy. Relaxing. We wind our way along the shoreline, mesmerized by views of the stunning river and mountain landscape, daydreaming about our unforgettable Charlevoix adventure.

View from Train Leger de Charlevoix

Many thanks to Tourisme Québec for hosting our days of summer play in Charlevoix!

For more information visit:

Lodging:
Hotel Royal William
Hôtel Le Germain Charlevoix
Fairmont Le Manoir Richelieu
Hôtel Chateau Laurier Québec

Activities:
Parc national des Grands-Jardins
Katabatik
Vélo-Coudres
Croisieres AML
Les Moulins de L’Isle-aux-Coudres
Train Leger de Charlevoix

Eateries & Cidery:
Le Saint-Pub Microbrewery
Resto-Boutique La Table
Cidrerie Vergers Pedneault
Pains d’Exclamation
Café Chez Nous

Wander on!

Nancy

What about you, wanderboomers? What’s your favorite place to visit in Quebec? 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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