Entries in ‘Cruise’ Journal

Germany’s Regensburg Christmas Market

Friday January 16, 2015 at 5:05 AM | 2 Comments

December is a magical time to visit the medieval city of Regensburg, Germany. Named a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2006, this location was a great trading metropolis built up in the middle ages and was not destroyed during any of the wars. The people are friendly, the shops along the cobblestone streets of Old Town are charming and the regional foods are especially tasty.

Gluhwein, Regensburg, Christmas Market

Glühwein is served at the Regensburg Christmas Market. Photo © 2014 Nancy D. Brown


I was fortunate to visit several Christmas Markets of Europe, including Nuremberg, Passau, Vienna and Budapest, during a trip on the Romantic Danube with Viking River Cruises. The Christmas market located around Neupfarrplatz has been an annual tradition for over 400 years.


Regensburg, Germany, Christmas Market

Seeing stars in Regensburg. Photo © 2014 Nancy D. Brown


Regensburg at night

When the sunsets, Regensburg comes alive at night. The streets are lite up with twinkling lights and luminated decorations hang suspended between narrow streets. A huge Christmas tree dazzles with white lights by the main square and the smell of gluhwein fills the air. Like munchkins from the Wizard of Oz, locals and visitors are beckoned to come out and meet one another in this festive winter atmosphere. Parents bundle up their children in brightly colored clothing and place them on carousel horses as they dance round and round to the beat of the holiday music.

Regensburg Christmas Market, carousel horse

Carousel horse. Photo © 2014 Nancy D. Brown


Regional German food

One of my favorite discoveries at the European Christmas Markets was the regional foods; specifically the sausages. Nurembergers are very proud of their pork sausages – the size of a “pinkie finger” the smallest finger on the human hand. In Regensburg, it’s all about the 1/2 meter Bratwurst. Have you tried these sausages or the pork sausages served at the Sausage Tavern?

1/2 meter bratwurst, Regensburg, Germany, Christmas Market

1/2 meter Bratwurst. Photo © 2014 Nancy D. Brown

Regensburg, Germany, sausage

Regional sausages at the Christmas Market. Photo © 2014 Nancy D. Brown

Historische Wurstküche, sausage kitchen, regensburg, germany

Historische Wurstküche. Photo © 2014 Nancy D. Brown


Regensburg, Germany, Christmas Market

Regensburg at night. Photo © 2014 Nancy D. Brown

Insider Tip
Make sure to stop for a pork sausage at the Historic Sausage Kitchen not far from the Cathedral of St. Peter. Sit outside the 900-year-old building and take in the views of the Stone Bridge over the Danube River.
For additional insider tips follow Luxury Travel Writer Nancy D. Brown on Twitter @Nancydbrown and follow Regensburg Tourism @Regensburg_trip on Twitter.

Article written by, video and photos courtesy of Travel Writer Nancy D. Brown of What a Trip, Travels from Northern California. Disclosure: thanks to the folks at Viking River Cruises for making this trip a reality. All opinions are my own.

Viking River Cruises Floating Hotel

Friday January 9, 2015 at 6:06 AM | 3 Comments

Are you curious about a river cruise? Wondering what the differences are between a river cruise and a hotel stay? I recently had the opportunity to join Viking River Cruises on the Romantic Danube; exploring the Christmas Markets of Europe from Nuremberg to Budapest . Viking River Cruises are offered year round, so if you prefer traveling to Europe in the spring, summer or fall, this river cruise is for you!

Viking Delling, Melk, Austria, Danube river

Viking Delling in Melk, Austria. Photo © 2014 Nancy D. Brown


Viking River Cruises Martijn Kamphuis (MK) shares how he came to be a hotel manager on the Viking Delling Longship.

MK: I started in the restaurant business when I was 14 and had the goal to be a hotel manager. I was lucky to make a career out of it. I have a degree in Hotel Management from the Netherlands. It has always been my hobby and I was able to make a job out of my hobby.

Viking River Cruises, Viking Delling, restaurant

Dining options aboard Viking Delling longship. Photo © 2014 Nancy D. Brown

What’s the difference between a bricks and mortar hotel & river boat cruising?

MK: The differences are of course that no moments are the same.  On a Viking Longship, the scenery is always changing. And furthermore, the contact with the guests is totally different than a land- based hotel. With a hotel, the contact with the guests is limited to check in, check out, breakfast and dinner.

As for a floating hotel, you are with the guests almost 24 hours a day, and then for the entire cruise. On the other side, of course you have different logistic issues such as deliveries of goods. These details really need to be planned in advance.

Martijn Kamphuis, hotel manager, Viking River Cruises

Hotel Manager Martijn Kamphuis welcomes guests on Viking Delling. Photo © 2014 Nancy D. Brown


What are the similarities of river boat cruising and a hotel?

MK: There are similarities; in general the whole process of service is the same.

Besides only having to unpack once during your travels, what makes river cruising unique compared to a hotel stay?

MK: One very important thing is the possibility of visiting cities and sailing through countries without any worries; everything is taken care of.

To elaborate on Martijn’s above statement on sailing without worries, it should be noted that Viking sends each guest travel documents pre-trip, as well as providing daily itineraries in room. Trip documents include:
itinerary-specific information booklet
travel companion destination book
leather luggage tag
self-stick luggage tags
transfer stickers
keepsake travel wallet

Esterhazy cake, Viking longship, Viking River Cruises

Regional cuisine, like this Esterhazy Cake from Hungary, is featured on board Viking Longships. Photo © 2014 Nancy D. Brown


What are some of the misconceptions with regard to river cruising?

MK: The biggest misconception is that people think river cruising is only for older people. River cruising is for everyone! We see multi-generations and when we have complete families on board, we see that they are all enjoying it.

Viking Delling crew, Viking River Cruises, restaurant

Some of the Viking Delling crew. Photo © 2014 Nancy D. Brown


Tell us about the amenities of Viking River Cruises (VRC)

MK: I think one of the great amenities is the fact that we take care of everything. In addition we have Viking house brands. Our biggest amenity is the type of ships we offer; you always have the same onboard experience – feel the same confident atmosphere.

Is there a hot tub on board a longship?

MK: Viking Longships deliver the comfort, the view and the service. We don’t have space for hot tubs or fitness areas on board. We are specialized in providing the services for it locally through our concierge.

Viking Delling, suite, Viking River Cruises

French Balcony Stateroom 335 aboard Viking Delling. Photo © 2014 Nancy D. Brown


What are the difference in room categories?

MK: We have the comfort stateroom, veranda room with balcony, veranda suites with separate living room and Explorer Suites.

When is the best time of year to book for value cruising?

MK: Viking always offers the itineraries that are fitting for the seasons. There’s always beauty and the cities are always wonderfully changing throughout the seasons.


When is your favorite time of year to cruise?

MK: I don’t have a favorite time of year. Each season offers different opportunities; in springtime the tulip and windmills in the Netherlands and Belgium and in summer, the European cruises and in winter during the holiday season the Christmas Market cruises.

life ring, Viking Delling, Viking River Cruises

Cruising the Romantic Danube on Viking Delling. Photo © 2014 Nancy D. Brown


Insider Tip
Do you love sharing your vacation photos with family and friends as they unfold or are you worried about staying connected with work while you travel? Viking River Cruises offers complimentary internet access and two computer stations on board all longships. For additional insider tips follow Luxury Travel Writer Nancy D. Brown on Twitter @Nancydbrown and follow @VikingRiver on Twitter.

If You Go:

Viking River Cruises
More information may be found on the Viking River Cruises website, www.vikingrivercruises.com

Article written by, video and photos courtesy of Travel Writer Nancy D. Brown of What a Trip, Travels from Northern California. Disclosure: thanks to the folks at Viking River Cruises for making this trip possible. This was my first time on a river cruise and I loved it! All opinions are my own.

Rhine River: Christmas Market Cruising

Wednesday October 22, 2014 at 7:07 AM | 0 Comments

My wanderlust and love of boating each began at the same time: on the “It’s a Small World” ride at Disneyland when I was a child. At first the exotic costumes and props sparked my interest — then it struck me how pleasant it was to see the world pass by as I floated on a boat, cushioned by the water beneath the hull rather than bounced along a hard, rocky road or sealed inside a tourist bus.
These old feelings flooded into me as I awoke from a short nap in the forward observation deck of the Viking Jarl longboat as it docked on the Rhine River in downtown Strasbourg, France. My wife and I were on an eight-day upriver cruise from Amsterdam to Basel, Switzerland. She had been invited on the trip as a writer specializing in food and wine to experience Viking hospitality. I decided to tag along when I heard my two favorite travel words: “water” and “boat.” “Europe” didn’t hurt either.

"Strasbourg" Germany, Christmas Market

Strasbourg Christmas Market

Viking River Cruises is probably the most well-known to Americans of the European river cruise lines because of its advertising and marketing. The cruise line also boasts one of the most modern fleets on the rivers and it is adding new boats at an intense pace. Already in 2014, Viking has christened 16 new boats, a feat that got them listed in the Guinness Book of World Records.
The Boat
Viking calls its boats “longships” in honor, one supposes, of the earliest Viking ships of that famous name. But they are nothing like the Viking ships of old. The boat we were on was the “Viking Jarl” — long and narrow due to the narrow rivers the longboats ply and the barges with which they compete for space. Still, the riverboat actually feels spacious.
Staterooms at river level have a large porthole window and no balcony, but are appointed with refrigerator, flat-screen TV, a small desk and a well-designed bathroom with high-end counter tops and all the accoutrement you would expect in a land-based hotel. Above this level, rooms are similar, but many have full-floor windows or balconies. At the back are more luxurious suites with bedrooms and sitting rooms. For waterbugs who spend most of their time on small pleasure craft, like the 30 foot sloop I sail, the accommodations are luxurious. For cruise ship aficionados used to rooms on gargantuan cruise lines, the space will feel elegant, but a little tight.

"Viking River Cruises" longboat

Viking River Cruises lounge

The front of the boat is devoted to public spaces — lounges, a library, dining rooms and a well-stocked bar. But these are nothing like the glitzy, cavernous public spaces on a typical ocean-going cruiser. Viking’s longships offer a much more intimate space, designed for quiet comfort. The land-based comparison might be between a small boutique hotel and a Disneyland resort.
Viking’s longships are not for those wanting to blend into the touring masses. They are intimate ships, with only 95 staterooms accommodating about 190 passengers, with 52 crewmembers, a ratio of one crewmember for just four passengers. The Jarl never felt crowded, and there was more opportunity to get to know people at the open-seating meals. There was also a lot of head-nodding and “how you doin’s” to people whose faces you had seen many times but had not actually met.
Mostly, I was struck by how these longboats are purpose-built ships. They honor the passing scenery as the main event, with walls of glass and intimate resting spots where passengers can feel closer to the life of the river and not far from life along the shore.
"Rhine River"

Rhine River

The River
The Rhine is one of the most storied waterways in all of recorded history. There is too much history of the river to be digested on even an eight-day cruise. Everywhere you look there is history oozing from the rocks, literally. Some of the earliest mentions of the Rhine River Valley come from the Roman Empire around 1 BC. The Romans brought their armies and building skills far north and constructed fortifications, aqueducts and lots of swords and shields to the area. Skipping ahead a few thousand years, World War II buffs will find themselves surrounded by names that evoke heartrending battles on both sides, from the Arnheim Bridge — immortalized in the book and film , A Bridge Too Far — to the bridges Nijmegen, and Ludendorff, spanning the Rhine at Remagen, which became famous, when U.S. forces took control of it, keeping open a key entryway for US forces fighting Hitler’s Third Reich.
Christmas Marke, "Strasbourg Cathedral" France

Christmas Market at the Strasbourg Cathedral

The boat generally travels at night and docks in a new locale before sunrise. That is, except for days when the scenery is spectacular. We saw the beautiful sections of the Rhine during the day, like the rapids through the Rhine Gorge below the famous Lorelei, and a stunning stretch of the river studded with castles that each encapsulate a period of European history.
I thought I wouldn’t like traveling so much while asleep, on the theory that I would miss a lot of scenery. Wrong. The trip was scheduled so well that we traversed most of the industrial heart of Germany while asleep, missing most of the smokestacks and car factories, while waking up refreshed and ready for a day of sightseeing and fun. It was perfect: new locales to explore each day but no packing and unpacking. It was “It’s a Small World” for adults. (For anyone fearing motion sickness, the boat was almost too still; hard to tell if it was moving or not without looking outside).
Oops. I guess I started out this story by admitting that I was taking a nap during the day, missing some of the beautiful scenery. But my wife was there to make sure I did touch land on a number of occasions.
Christmas Market "Heidelberg Castle" Germany

Christmas Market under Heidelberg Castle

The Shore
What attracted my wife to the trip was the timing: the Christmas season when the public squares of towns and cities all along the Rhine hold Christmas markets. I figured I would spend my time on the boat. But to my surprise, visiting the cities and small villages along the Rhine during the holiday season was invigorating and entertaining. It looked like each of the places we visited were committed to keeping the celebrations local and traditional, from the music filled markets in Cologne to the food-filled markets in Strasbourg, France. There are themes that carried through all the markets along the Rhine, be they in Germany or France. Warm, spiced wine — called Glühwein — is ubiquitous and comes in souvenir cups. I usually roll my eyes at the overwrought treacle in public relations brochures. But I reread this when I got home: “Songs of local choirs mingle with the aroma of sweet pastries and mulled wines along glimmering streets where local craftspeople showcase their hand-made wares and mouth-watering delicacies.” This was actually what it was like. Maybe it was all the Glühwein.
Our cruise was timed to fit in as many Christmas markets as possible. I thought one market would suffice — “If you’ve seen one … ” — but that turned out not to be the case. In Cologne there are many markets, and each one differentiated itself from the other. Some focused on food, others on toys and crafts, other on Christmas decorations. Some had music, others stunning locations, like the one surrounding the awe-inspiring cathedral in Cologne. Some small towns just had one, like the charming one in Rudesheim am Rhein, a small wine-producing town in the Rheingau area of Germany, where Riesling and some Pinot Noir (known as Spätburgunder) grow overlooking the river. The Glühwein there was a cut above the others I’d had downriver, but that might have been the result of quantity imbibed, or because it was steeped in more fruit and spices like cinnamon and cloves.
"Strasbourg Christmas Market" sausages

Sausages at Strasbourg Christmas Market

Then there’s the food. Some of the time I was there I felt like I was competing in the Nathan’s Annual Hot Dog Eating Contest. The range of sausages available was mind-boggling, eye-popping and waist-enhancing. All kinds and sizes were being grilled and served in brochen (hard rolls), or atop sauerkraut, potatoes or spätzle noodles. And there was always a good German beer within reach. The vendors in each market had their own tales to tell of how they came to make their regional wurst. When the Rhine nudges up against France, as it does in Strasbourg, a city that has passed between German and French control some five times in its history, the cuisine is distinctive, a German-French collaboration that was sublime. In the Strasbourg markets, there were cookies, pastries and crepes but also beignets and some gorgeous chocolate-covered fruit kebabs.
The food onboard was also pleasing, with three substantial meals plus numerous snacks throughout the day. And the chef tried to make sure that at least one thing on our plates each day came from the surrounding area. And since we were on the border of Germany and France for much of the time, the selections were excellent.
A Few Things to Note:
Demographics: Viking must have the best marketers on the planet. They have chosen their preferred customer demographic and they have mastered the skill of getting them on board. The Viking ship we were on was filled with retired Americans, generally from the middle of the country, and some Canadians. The average age of the passengers was 63; when you met someone at dinner the opening question was usually “Are you retired?” The crew is well- trained and prepared to deal with the special issues of the older set; the whole trip seemed wheelchair accessible, and every excursion offered a way for the mobility-challenged to enjoy at least part of it.
"Cologne Cathedral", Germany

Christmas Market Cologne Cathedral

Bareboat Charming: “Bare Boat” is a term used by sailors for a boat one charters without a captain or crew, and with only the essentials needed to sail. While the longships are by no means bareboat, you should not expect all the amenities that you would find aboard a large Princess Cruises ship for 4,000 people. These boats are elegant but simple: no casino, no workout club, no cabaret, no clowns twisting balloons into barn animal shapes. There was not a child (or even a young teenager) on board. There is entertainment fitting to the style and close-in engagement with the local area. Local musicians came on one night to play classical music; a lecturer on the European Union gave a great talk on the politics of the region; local children sang Christmas carols; and a talented pianist played every night in the well-appointed lounge.
The Captain and Crew. The international, multi-lingual team that runs the ship is exceedingly proud of the vessel, as it should be. And the crew is more-than-happy to spend real time with a passenger who expresses interest. The captain held an open visit to the boat’s bridge and after a full hour of heckling him with questions, I asked if I could tour the hidden areas of the ship, including the propulsion, electrical, and waste systems (I know this sounds strange, but not to a sailor). After deciding that a middle-aged American wearing “Nautica” clothes was unlikely to be a terrorist, he hooked me up with the chief engineer of the ship, who spent nearly two hours taking me on an exclusive, impromptu tour of the “hidden” ship. For a boat geek, it was heaven, although my wife was a little taken aback that I was so thrilled to see the waste system (which, by the way, treats the sewage on board and returns only clean water back into the river).

It turns out it’s a large world, after all, and the Viking ships are a lovely way to experience the real thing.
If You Go:
Viking River Cruises
This is a guest post by Spencer A. Sherman who was a guest of Viking River Cruises. Photos courtesy Spencer Sherman.