What We Wish We Knew Before Taking Our First Viking River Cruise

While we have been on 80 ocean cruises, we share all the Viking River cruise tips we wish we had known before our first river cruise!

Our first Viking River Cruise

Viking is synonymous with river cruises, with a fleet of over 70 ships sailing on 4 continents. Heidi and I have sailed on Viking Ocean and even one of the cruise line’s expedition ships. But, we recently took our first Viking River cruise on the Seine River. We are familiar with the cruise line’s ships on other bodies of water. Yet, there were several things that surprised us about Viking Radgrid. So, whether you are new to cruising in general or new to river cruising, we share our Viking river cruise tips to ensure your trip is smooth sailing.

Viking River Cruise Tips For Your First Sailing

Onboard Announcements

Viking instituted a new no-announcement policy as of March 2024. The cruise line has reduced the number of ship-wide announcements by instituting this “silent ship policy”. Now, the cruise line will only make announcements for essential updates. It will no longer make in-cabin announcements for tour group meeting times, onboard activities, etc.

Now, when an announcement is made, everyone onboard knows it is essential. Thankfully, during our week-long cruise, there was only one announcement regarding a change to the cruise itinerary. Besides that, the ship’s PA was silent.

We are fans of this quieter approach. However, it does require a little more attention on your part to ensure you don’t miss out on anything. The cruise line provides tickets and tour information each evening in your cabin. There is also a print version of the daily program left in your stateroom, along with information provided in the Viking Voyager app.

Viking Voyager App

Now, given that there are no longer ship-wide announcements, using the Viking Voyager app and having a paper copy of the daily becomes even more critical.

Compared to other cruise lines, the Viking Voyager app is rather basic. But, it does contain the most pertinent information.

Viking River Cruise Tips

The app allows cruisers to see the daily schedule, the breakfast, lunch, and dinner menus for the entire voyage, plus a list of your booked excursions and additional tours.

So, while it is relatively simple and easy to use, it also serves its purpose. Not to mention, there is still a daily magazine with all the activities and tours delivered to your stateroom each night.

So, be sure to download the app and add your Viking voyage info prior to boarding the ship.

What You Can Bring Onboard

Most ocean cruise ships have a list of prohibited items that guests are not allowed to bring onboard. Many of these restrictions are also true on Viking, items like candles and irons are still prohibited. However, one significant departure from mainstream cruising is that Viking river cruises allows guests to bring on drinks and food.

Viking allows guests to bring unlimited alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages with them on their sailing. This Viking river cruise tip works any time during the trip as well. Yes, guests can board with these items on embarkation day or pick them up at a port of call at any point during the sailing.

So, if you want a few bottles of wine from town or a six-pack of the local brew, that is not an issue. The same applies to food items from the local bakery or cheese shop.

There are also no corkage fees, and the onboard crew will be happy to serve any spirits or drinks you brought onboard during the trip at no additional cost.

A Streamlined Embarkation Process

With over 80 cruises under our belts, we have spent countless hours in line during cruise embarkation day.

So, it was a relief that the embarkation process on our Viking river cruise was quick and efficient. In total, it took 15 minutes. In fact, most of this process occurred right onboard the ship—no need for tons of documents or checkpoints.

After our Viking transfer from the airport to the embarkation point, we walked right onto the river ship. Guests Services checked our passports, handed over our key cards, and we were off to our stateroom. Our luggage was also delivered minutes later. Of note, you do want to make sure to complete the pre-cruise check-in process providing your preferences and necessary documentation.

Convenient and Seamless Travel

As part of the cruise line’s inclusions – which we will get to a little later – cruisers who book flights with the cruise line also get complimentary bus transfers to and from the airport. This is where the Viking service and seamless travel begins.

A Viking representative was at the airport waiting for us and approximately 25 other cruisers also with overnight flights. Arriving at the the ship, our program director, Mia, welcomed this batch of travelers onboard. Our luggage was taken from the bus to the ship, where we were quickly reunited with it in our stateroom.  

Similar to Viking Ocean, the first night of most river cruises is an overnight stay in the embarkation port. This gives cruisers all day to arrive and even some of the next day if there are flight delays. So, booking a pre-cruise hotel stay is unnecessary unless you want to extend your trip.

Casual Onboard Vibe

This Viking river cruise tip will help with your packing. We weren’t sure what to expect regarding the vibe onboard the ship. So, we were surprised to find the atmosphere was casual and relaxed. Most days consisted of tours and sightseeing, and the dress code on the ship fit that bill.

You will find plenty of travel wear from brands like Eddie Bauer, Columbia, and Patagonia. As New Englanders, we were also rocking some Vineyard Vines and LL Bean attire.

Our First Viking River Cruise

Most cruisers did change up for dinner, but the attire was mainly slacks and a button-down shirt for the men. Women were wearing similar attire as well. We did not see many sports coats or dresses this trip.

With some long days in port, the last thing most cruisers want to do is don their elegant attire.

How Tours Work

Like ocean cruise ships, Viking river cruise packages include one free tour at each port of call. For our seven-night cruise, there were six included shore excursions. These ranged from a comprehensive walking tour of downtown Rouen to a bus tour of Paris.

The quality of the tours did vary. We were disappointed that our time in Paris was primarily spent experiencing the city through a pane of glass. While we had plans to see more of the town on our own, the weather did not cooperate later in the week. Further, there was no privileged access to sites like Le Louvre or the Palace of Versailles, meaning our tour was amongst the mobs of other tourists.

But, we thoroughly enjoyed our walking tours in villages like Les Andelys and our self-guided exploration of the Chateau de La Roche-Guyon. We also had a very long but informative day re-tracing the path of Allied Forces during WWII and visiting the beaches of Normandy.

Cruisers are placed into groups for the included tours, and you are with most of these same guests for the duration of the trip. So, you get to know those people quite quickly. 

As a side note, anytime you see a Viking tour labeled “panoramic”, it is most likely a bus tour. So, if given the option, we would opt for something different if you’d prefer a more active day.

Quietvox Hack

As part of these tours, guests are each given a Quietvox. These small devices allow tour guides to provide you with narration and information in large groups without having to shout. Each guest on a Viking river ship receives a device and an earbud in their stateroom.

Most cruisers wear the Quietvox with a wired headset while roaming the streets or perusing a museum. However, one of our Viking river cruise tips is that you may use a Bluetooth connection for wireless headphones.

We use AirFly when connecting to in-flight entertainment or when we want to use our Airpods on devices with a 3.5 mm audio jack. This AirFly device can also attach to a Quietvox. Of course, cruisers can also use their personal headphones if they prefer. But you do want to remain mindful your surroundings. That is why the headphones provided with the Quietvox are only for one ear.

The Pace of the Tours

As forty-something cruisers, we admittedly are not in the most incredible shape. We barely survived the treks in Antarctica or hikes in the Caribbean. But the Viking River walking tours tend to be very slow-paced.

While some river cruise lines offer tours of various activity levels, Viking only provides one level for included tours. Of note, some tours do offer an accessible option for those with mobility issues.

Once we got into the groove, this pace wasn’t a big issue for us, as we would go ahead or stay behind the tour taking photos or exploring a bit more. With the earpiece and the constant narration, we knew we could catch up to the tour.

Viking River Cruise Tips

There was only one point in Rouen where the tour moved on, and the narration got a tad fuzzy. So, it was time to turn back and head towards the rest of the group.

So, if you are okay with a tour that takes time and doesn’t go far, you will fit right in. If not, almost all the stops are easily navigable with one of the provided maps or a smartphone app.

Don’t Leave Home Without a Card

Viking takes excellent care of its guests. In addition to the included tours, the cruise line knows guests want to explore at their leisure. That is why the cruise line offers maps at each port of call. During our cruise, guests could grab a map at Guest Services or from crew at the gangway.

Along with some points of interest, the maps also detail the ship’s location. No, the map doesn’t include the location of the nearest Diamonds International.

But the cruise line also wants to ensure guests return safely. This is perhaps one of the most important Viking river cruise tips for those not on a tour. With potentially spotty cell service, the cruise line offers guests small cards that fit in a lanyard or wallet at each port of call.

The card includes the local number for the ship and the address. So, if cruisers ever need assistance getting back from town, they can hand the card to a taxi driver or someone at a local tour office. We often took pictures of the cards to have on our phones, and we recommend you do the same.

Be Flexible

Similar to our Antarctica cruise with Atlas Ocean Voyages, our Viking river cruise encountered some unseasonal weather. At the end of the sailing, the river levels were too high, so we were not able to dock back in Paris.

Instead, the ship docked about 30 minutes away in Le Pecq. This did mean a change to our tour times for the day. Also, it impacted travelers looking to walk around Paris for the final day. While the cruise line did provide a shuttle, it wasn’t the same as spending the last night onboard with a view of the Eiffel Tower from our ship.

We Just Returned From Our First Viking River Cruise And Here's What It Was Really Like

Also, given the time of year, one of the included tours to the Monet Gardens wasn’t running yet. The alternative tour was instead a stop in the village of Auvers-sur-Oise, the final home of another famous impressionist painter, Vincent Van Gough. While our tour guide was great, this swapped tour was perhaps my least favorite.

Either way, when on a river cruise, weather and river conditions can impact the trip. So, one of our Viking river cruise tips is to be flexible and roll with the current.  

Cabin Size

During our cruise, we stayed on Deck 2, the middle deck, in a veranda stateroom. It was nice to have the semi-private outdoor space, even if it barely fit the two chairs and table. The cabin (with veranda) has a total square footage of 205.

While it contains many features of a stateroom on an ocean ship, it did feel smaller in comparison. So, if you’re used to cruising on ocean ships, don’t be surprised by the cabin size on a river ship.

Nonetheless, there was plenty of storage space for our clothes. Immediately entering the room was a closet with one section of shelves and another with clothes hangers. While compact, the bathroom contained a nice glass-enclosed shower and the line’s signature heated tile floors.

Viking River Cruise Tips

While squeezing between the bed and the long desk and dresser took some maneuvering, it was still a comfortable home away from home during our Seine River cruise.

Thankfully, you can get creative to maximize your space with items like magnetic hooks, which always come in handy on any cruise. We used these to hang bags, jackets, hats, and other items.

No Onboard Laundry

As mentioned, we could unpack and store all our clothes and gear for this week-long trip without too much difficulty. But Viking does offer river cruises that span two weeks, not to mention pre- and post-cruise extensions that can add even more days to the trip.

So, we were surprised that the Viking longships do not have self-service laundry, especially since both ocean and expedition ships offer launderettes.

Of course, cruisers can pay to have their laundry done for them, but it is not cheap. The costs are on par with contemporary cruise lines, which charge between $5 and $8 for an article of clothing. Only guests in suites get complimentary laundry services, and longships have very few of these accommodations.  

Thus, cruisers should plan to pack enough clothes for the voyage.

 What to Pack

Speaking of packing, given the laundry situation and the fluctuation in temps and weather conditions, it’s important to pack layers.

Regardless of season, you should be prepared for various weather conditions. This means bringing lightweight, packable clothing to layer as well as items like suntan lotion and bug spray. Viking does provide umbrellas but they are pretty cumbersome to carry around, so packing your own rain gear is a good idea too.

Viking River Cruise Tips

What you wear on the ship will depend on your temperature regulation. While many fellow cruisers felt the ship was cold and wore sweaters, we thought it was warm and didn’t end up wearing many of the nighttime clothing items that we packed.

Do keep in mind that even in the summer, the mornings and evenings can get cool, especially on the upper deck or your balcony as the ship is sailing to the next port of call. So, plan accordingly.

All Meals are Open Seating

Dining on Viking river cruises was different than we expected. We have sailed on smaller ocean ships with open dining. But, even those experiences did not prepare us for how meals work on this voyage.

All meals are served as open seating in the Restaurant or the Aquavit Terrace. Given the weather, the terrace was not open much, so there were very few tables inside this more casual dining spot.  

This meant for most meals all cruisers dined in the Restaurant. Here, there are no tables for two, only larger tables of 6 or more guests. Thus, you’ll need to make some friends.

Throughout the cruise, guests did tend to gravitate to the same groups and tables for dinner. So, by the end of the week, cliques had formed in several sections of the main dining room.

For the most part, Viking river cruisers are friendly and talkative. But, it is hard to escape others during mealtimes. So, if you are shy or want a quiet dinner that may not be easy to do during the sailing.

Limited Dining Options

On Viking river ships, there are two restaurants that serve the same menu. The meals occur at predictable times, and everyone is on the same schedule. Breakfast is served at 7 AM, lunch at noon, and dinner at 7 PM.

Actually, we were surprised by the lack of dining options. On our previous Viking sailings, there was a buffet setup where we could grab a quick bite without the sit-down service. However that is not the case on Viking river ships. There is also no specialty dining and no room service.

Thus, if you have two tours in a day, it can feel hectic hustling back to get something to eat before returning to land for further exploration.

The Aquavit Terrace did have some bakery and continental items for breakfast. So, we appreciated the ability to grab some food here and coffee from the self-serve espresso machines in the AM.

But, there were no grab-and-go food selections for lunch or dinner. Basically, if you didn’t want to eat in the Restaurant at the set dining times, you didn’t have any other option…besides cookies at the coffee station.

Also, we did feel the Restaurant menus were a tad limited, with a few standard items that remained on the menu and a few daily specials. However, Heidi was able to order a piece of grilled chicken one afternoon even though it wasn’t on the menu.

You’ll Get to Know Everyone Onboard

As we mentioned, most cruisers partake in the organized tours and open seating at meals, so everyone onboard gets to know each other. With about 162 other cruisers, you will have seen everyone on board by the middle of the week…for better or worse.

Even if you haven’t officially met them, you will quickly recognize them when walking around the ship or ashore. For most, saying hi or striking up a conversation with another guest is a part of cruising. But unlike larger ships, there’s no blending into the crowd or escaping if you don’t feel like being social one night. The only place to truly do that is your stateroom.

Mobility Issues

Ocean cruising is one of the best forms of travel for those with mobility issues. On the other hand, river cruises are not the most accessible. Arguably, most of Europe and many of the landmarks and historic destinations in these countries are not wheelchair-friendly either.

Even for those with minor mobility issues, getting around many villages we visited, with hills and cobblestone walkways, could be challenging.

We did not see many walkers or wheelchairs on our Seine River cruise. However, Viking Radgrid does have a small elevator. It could only accommodate a couple of passengers at a time though.

So, even though the ship only has four decks, most passengers take the stairs. Still, if you have your heart set on going on a river cruise, it is certainly possible to get around the ship with an assistive device.

Who Is Onboard

Being in our 40s, we were among the ship’s youngest cruisers. While most ocean ships have a median passenger age of 50s, it wouldn’t be a stretch to say it was in the 70s on our Viking river cruise.

For the most part, they were still lively, engaging, and well-traveled folks. Given the long days ashore and later dinner, we retired for the night shortly after. So, Heidi and I fit right in with the crowd.

One thing we do like about Viking is that it is adults only. While some travelers did bring their “kids”, these were adult “kids” who were often older than us.

Getting On and Off the Ship

Along with the laid-back embarkation, getting on and off the ship is also very casual. Cruisers can come and go as they please at each port of call. There is often no crew member even manning the embarkation point. All cruisers need to do is swipe in and out at a kiosk with their room key card.

However, cruisers will often need their room key card to get back onboard, as the doors are locked. There are no long queues, metal detectors, or airport screeners to worry about when coming back from a day ashore.

Just keep in mind that sometimes Viking river ships will dock next to each other. So, it is possible you will need to walk through another ship to get to your vessel.

If this is the case, a team member is usually there to ensure you are on the right boat. Although, you’ll probably figure it out as your key card won’t work when you attempt to scan yourself back on the ship if you are in the wrong place.

What’s Included on the Cruise

Viking ensures guests are well taken care of on and off the ship. The cruise fare includes all dining on the ship, a range of nonalcoholic drinks, and specialty coffee and tea throughout the day. However, the coffee is at a self-service kiosk in the main atrium.

The cruise fare includes beer and wine at lunch and dinner as well. If you are looking for further alcoholic beverage options, there is also the cruise line’s inexpensive Silver Spirits package. So, it doesn’t take much to upgrade to a truly all-inclusive cruise.

Unlike most ocean cruises nowadays, there is still twice-daily room service. Like the old days of cruising, our room attendant was like a ninja, finding time to make up our room when we were out for short periods of time.

Along with everything else, all cruisers get unlimited WiFi for one device. The internet worked much better than on our last Viking sailing, and the onboard staff did confirm it was Starlink technology. I was able to easily switch from my phone to my laptop when I had some work emails to check.

While the speeds were acceptable, they were not fast enough for streaming videos. However, I was able to upload a video to YouTube over the span of about two days.

What’s Onboard

Given that all Viking longships are essentially interchangeable, cruisers are truly sailing for the destination with the ship as the backdrop. Still, Viking allows its guests to explore the world in comfort.

On Viking Radgrid, the service was friendly and attentive. Servers quickly learned individuals’ preferences and tastes. Given that there are only 160 cruisers and about 55 crew, it really is like one big family.

That being said, there are not many public spaces or amenities though. While the ships have a sun deck with loungers, a walking track, and some greenspace, they do not have pools, spas, or fitness centers onboard. Besides the two dining venues, the only other public area is the Lounge, which is also the main bar and entertainment space.

The Sun Deck on Viking Radgrid

There were few organized activities during the day. Even in the evenings, we expected some enrichment sessions, but it was mostly just the daily port talk.

On three occasions, local performers performed after dinner in the lounge. Mia, the program director, hosted a version of majority rules one night as well which was a lot of fun. But, that was the extent of the entertainment.

Overall Impressions

Overall, while our first Viking river cruise was not exactly what we expected, we still had a fantastic time. The cruise line does a remarkable job of catering to its guests. With the relaxed pace, elegant Scandinavian design, and amicable onboard atmosphere, we certainly wouldn’t hesitate to take another river cruise.

While it is different than ocean cruising, there are still many similarities that made us feel right at home. We enjoyed getting to explore off-the-beaten path locales that we could never visit on larger ships. While there’s less offered onboard, there’s plenty to do and see ashore.

If you are considering your first river cruise, it’s important to remember that the journey is really about the destination, and Viking will help make sure it’s a memorable one with attention to every detail!


Have you taken a Viking river cruise yet? What are some things you wish you had known before the trip? Drop us an anchor below with your Viking river cruise tips.

Don Bucolo, or “DB”, loves everything about cruising- the ocean, the food, and the atmosphere. While he may be obsessed with doing extensive amounts of research on ships and all elements of a cruise, Don enjoys sharing his new found knowledge with fellow cruisers. When he is not sailing the high seas, he does whatever his wife tells him to do-it only took 10 years to realize this.
Don Bucolo
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What We Wish We Knew Before Taking Our First Viking River Cruise

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