April 2015 - Viking Jarl to Europe
Overall this cruise was very pleasant and well organized. The initial documentation package was concise and provided us with all the information we needed, except to have small local coins or Euros available in the different countries for access to a majority of the public toilets.
The one thing we did not like was the Airline or our seat selection on the flights arranged for us by Viking. We had prepaid the entire cruise months in advance and it seemed the seats we were assigned were the leftovers that are available at the last minute. We were able to change one flight but on all the rest we had to settle for at least one middle seat even though we paid for premium economy. The Premium Economy on Air France did not amount to more comfortable seats, though they were slightly wider and offered a few inches of more legroom than standard coach. We had much better experiences with other carriers premium economy in terms of seat comfort.
The Viking Jarl itself is an excellent river cruise boat. The boat is newer, and as expected the rooms are smaller than ocean cruises, but it was perfectly laid out and relatively easy to move around in. The food on board was very good, as good or better than most recent cruises we have taken. We would have liked to see at least one local dish on the menu each night. The one "local" night felt like it was a new idea that was not clearly explained to the staff or the passengers. The staff in all positions, were among the friendliest and attentive in any of the 17+ cruises we have taken. We tried moving around at dinner to take advantage of the open seating to get to know more of the other passengers, so getting to know the wait staff at dinner was a little challenging. We were able to find our favorite waiter for breakfast and lunch. Our room steward was among the best we had ever had take care of our cabin. She new our schedules and was in and out so quickly that we seldom saw her. Our room was spotless and looked brand new each day.
The best part of this cruise were the shore excursions arranged by Viking. The 1/2 day city tours in our pre-cruise cities and each major city we visited were perfect in helping us quickly get the lay of the land and determining what we wanted to investigate in more depth. Viking recommended local restaurants were all spot-on for the nights we had dinner on our own. The selection of the cities and countries on this cruise were the reason we had chosen this as our first river cruise. The history, culture and the fact that our boat docked at most city centers made it an ideal way to get a taste of each city we visited.
The highlight of the excursions was the planned home visit. We learned they were licensed B&B's, but still the discussion with our host was candid and no topic from family, religion, politics or employment opportunities was off limit. The refreshments were delicious but not as rewarding as sitting down and just talking with a local.