The moon shone brightly on the smooth Rhône River as we sailed silently, passing dimly lit chateaus and castles. I took a seven-day Viking River Cruise through France’s Provence and Lyon region and was not only enthralled with the scenery but adored the ship itself.
If you're considering a Viking Cruise or want to know what it's like to sail on a river, this post will guide you through everything you need to know before you go.
I boarded the Viking Buri on a windy spring day in Avignon, France. Upon arrival, waiters greeted me with a lemongrass scented towel and a glass of ice water. After briefly looking at our passports, the Maître d' himself ushered our luggage into a cozy stateroom and explained the features of the room.
Was this really a cruise? Yes. And it only gets better from here.
Viking Cruises offers excursions on the sea and river. I was delighted to spend seven days along the Rhône River on the Provence and Lyon itinerary.
Viking features a number (over 60 in fact!) of river cruises on their fleet. I've outlined what you can expect on a river excursion.
15 things to know before you take a Viking River Cruise
When I set sail on Viking I was immediately met with many questions, the most frequent, why take a cruise? To me, taking a cruise is probably the most relaxing vacation.
Travel planning usually takes a lot of time: where to stay, eat, sleep, and most importantly, what to see. But when taking a cruise much of this (and more) is done for you. With a Viking cruise, you know they've taken care of everything. You can sit back and enjoy the scenery around you. No need to stress. When I really want to relax I choose Viking.
See my first time cruising with Viking, here:
Very few “extra” costs
I hate being nickel and dimed. When paying for a vacation, I want to know all of my costs up front. This is one thing I love about Viking. Once you pay for your cruise, you’re pretty much all set. Included is a tour every day, all of your meals, and unlimited beer and wine at lunch and dinner. If you want an alcoholic drink at any other time, you can purchase the reasonably-priced “Silver Spirits” package which includes unlimited top-shelf liquor, specialty beer, and wine — available whenever you want.
Once you book your cruise, you’ll receive extensive details about your journey and options for booking tours. Of course, you can stick to the included tours. We spent more to take a few optional tours. For example, we took a truffle, cheese, and wine tasting tour outside of Lyon — one of my favorite experiences on the trip. We also purchased an additional trip to a Les Baux to see “Carrieres de Lumières” — an incredible display of Van Gogh’s artwork on an old stone quarry wall. Set to music, it felt like walking through a real life “Fantasia” and as if I was part of the artist's masterpieces. I think these tours were all well worth the additional cost.
At the bottom of this post I share my exact trip itinerary.
It’s surprisingly casual
I was a bit worried that I wouldn’t have enough formal wear for dinner at night, as is required on some cruises, but not to worry. Viking River cruises are somewhat casual. I loved that I could wear jeans or a dress at dinner. I would suggest packing a nice pair of flats, blouse, and jeans or pants, to wear for dinner (no shorts or t-shirts). You don’t have to wear a long black dress every night. I did also pack a few dresses, leggings, and I ended up buying a Viking fleece on board. I wasn’t anticipating how chilly France would be in May! I always pack my tennis shoes and a few lightweight sweaters.
You won’t spend tons of time in the room, but opt for a balcony
The itineraries with Viking sometimes mean you might visit one or two places in a day. That means you’ll have lots to see and do. But, when you are cruising, it’s absolutely wonderful to see the sights from the comfort of your room’s balcony. We spotted stately chateaus, vineyards clutching the sides of cliffs, and hilltop towns nestled beside fortresses. You can enjoy a cup of coffee or tea as you watch the world sail by. It’s a not-to-miss experience!
For me, one advantage of a river cruise is the luxury of having all your belongings in one place. I travel a lot and am often hauling my stuff from place to place. With a cruise, I can easily visit multiple places across the country, or even countries, and have the convenience of putting everything in one spot and knowing all my meals, transfers, and sleeping is in one convenient and comfy spot.
Bring Your Cruise Documents
This might sound like a no-brainer, but the two things you shouldn't forget are your passport and your cruise documents. The documents outline all the details you need to know about your trip and also include things like handy luggage tags.
You'll also find important information such as currency, language, and flight details if you booked with Viking.
Something to note is that Viking provides transfers to and from the airport, so you won't need to worry about getting to and from. Since I was exploring France a bit before my cruise, I found my own way to the ship. But they provided transfers from the ship to the airport when I was departing.
Leave your converters at home
Another great feature of a Viking River cruise is the ship's electrical outlets. Is that a crazy thing to say?! Yes. But having to pack additional converters or keeping your fingers crossed that your curling iron won't blow up is a nice feature. On the Viking ships you'll find American plugs (as well as European), making it easy to plug in your electronics.
Basically, Viking thinks of everything — just one reason I love this company.
Tell the staff about your special occasions
Michael and I were celebrating our 8th (!) wedding anniversary aboard the ship. I casually let the ship staff know about it. To our delight, on the night of our anniversary, the waitstaff surprised us with a delicious cake, candles, then serenaded us to “It's Now or Never.” It was such a memorable moment!
Viking goes out of its way to make you feel special, especially if you're celebrating an important event. So feel free to let them know.
The ship has WiFi, but it's limited
Yes, they advertise WiFi on board the Viking ships, but it's not going to be lightning fast Internet like you're used to at home. Just something to keep in mind. The Internet is good enough to check your emails or social media, but not quite strong enough to upload a video. This is not the case on ocean cruises, but I did find this on the river.
It's all about the destination
Yes, the cruise ship is incredible. But get off the boat! When you dock ashore, Viking includes an activity each and every day. This makes Viking different from other ships. They want you to get off the ship and find out more about the places you're visiting.
If you want additional help you can also use the onboard concierge to plan additional experiences or things to do. I highly recommend using these services to find unique options, food, and things that interest you.
Seven days isn't enough? No worries! Viking offers trip extensions so you can see even more of the cities and learn more about the history.
The food alone is worth the cost of the trip
All the Swiss-trained chefs prepare the food fresh every day. Viking menus emphasize specialty dishes from the region where you’re cruising. All the delicious food on Viking is included and starts with a breakfast buffet and a choice to order off-the-menu. You can also grab pastries in the Aquavit terrace.
Lunch is served in two locations: the dining room for a more formal order off-the-menu, or pasta and salad from the buffet. The Aquavit terrace grill serves burgers, hot dogs, and more. Dinner is served in the dining room or Aquavit and you’ll order off-the-menu.
You’re encouraged to order a starter, main dish, and dessert. Don’t worry if you can’t choose. They’ll bring you both! I particularly enjoyed the savory soups such as mushroom truffle and French onion. There’s also a coffee and water station with soft, fresh baked cookies. They're dangerous — I couldn’t pass by without grabbing one. The exceptional food on Viking is worth the cost of the cruise alone.
Almost everyone on the ship has sailed with Viking before
The first night of our arrival we received welcome drinks and listened to music in the Aquavit lounge. The staff went over important information before introducing themselves. Then the guests were asked if they had sailed with Viking before. Nearly every hand shot up! A true testament to the Viking experience.
There's a reason why Viking consistently receives awards as the best cruise company out there.
The cruise is great for adults of any age
Viking doesn’t allow children on board. You must be at least 18 to book a cruise. Most of the time you’ll find a bit of an older crowd. But that’s not to say younger cruisers will feel out of place. There are activities to appeal to all ages.
River cruising differs greatly from ocean cruising
Having sailed with Viking on both ocean and river, I can tell you the experience is not the same. Ocean cruises feature a much larger ship, a wider variety of restaurants and entertainment, and a bigger crew. The Viking River cruises are more intimate. You usually dock overnight at many of the ports, leaving you the option to explore in the evening if you choose.
Leave time to explore your ship
The Viking Longship is an absolute masterpiece of Scandinavian design. Clean lines and beautiful, modern decor are featured throughout the vessel.
We sailed on the Viking Buri — well equipped with everything you could need and more. A glamours marble entryway leads to a lovely staircase toward a library, beautiful dining room, sun deck, bar, lounge, as well as many tucked away corners where guests can relax.
The staff are world class
One day I mentioned that I preferred Diet Coke over coffee in the morning. Every morning after that, the waiter or waitress brought me a Diet Coke with a fresh glass of ice, I never had to ask again. They specialize in that personal touch, even making a point to remember names!
Intent on making the trip the best ever, the staff are fun, personable, and helpful. They not only cook, clean, organize, and serve, but they also entertain. One reason I and others keep coming back to Viking is because of the incredible staff. One important note: you tip additionally per day, per person. I recommend to also tip any staff you feel went above and beyond. For us, it was the Maître d, bartender, and piano player.
Here’s a look at our exact 7-day Viking Buri Provence and Lyon Excursion:
Day 1 – Arrival and Avignon
We arrived in Avignon and headed to the ship where a light lunch was provided. Our luggage was whisked right into the room and we had time to explore the boat and meet our fellow passengers on the ship.
Day 2 Arles
At Arles, known as the place where Van Gogh cut off his ear, we did a walking tour, saw the incredible Roman ruins, and walked the lovely sun-drenched cobblestone streets. Here we also went to Les Baux to see the “Carrieres de Lumières” exhibit in the quarry.
Day 3 Avignon
Heading back to Avignon, we walked through the city walls and explored the Pope's Palace- one of the most important historical sites in France. Now, it's used for a theater festival each year. We also went to the market and sampled oysters and candied fruits.
Day 4 Viviers
Lavender is extremely prevalent in Provence. On a tour of a lavender museum, we learned the many uses of this beautiful flower. Driving through small towns near the area I spotted house after house with blue shutters — a signature color in Provence.
Day 5 Tournon
After exploring the small town of Tournon, we hopped on a steam train! Yes, this was an included tour — incredible. We passed beautiful churches, bridges, and a gorge. Afterward, we took a walking tour of Vienne with its lovely church and Roman temple.
Day 6 Lyon
This, my second time to Lyon, reminded me of what makes this city so special — the incredible church, the views all around the city, the intricate and historical murals that explain its history. Because we were docked in Lyon that night, we could stroll the streets and take in the well-lit city after dark.
Day 7 Lyon and Excursion
Today we left Lyon on a bus tour that started with learning and tasting wine in the Beaujolais region. After wine, we had a feast of truffle flavored delights followed by a truffle hunt with an adorable dog. We finished off the day learning about goat cheese making, and we brought home salted caramel sauce.
Day 8 Departure from Lyon
On our final day, we packed up our stuff, had a delicious breakfast, and Viking assisted us straight to the Lyon airport. I was so sad to go, but know I'll be booking another Viking cruise soon!
How to choose a Viking cruise:
First and foremost think about the length of time. You can opt to spend seven days cruising the river or opt for two weeks cruising in the ocean.
Are you adventurous? Do you prefer seeing the sights like castles and walking cobblestone streets? Consider what you like to do or what's on your bucket-list and let the cruise fit your options.
If you're still feeling stuck, just remember, you can't really go wrong. Viking prides itself on going to astonishing and enriching destinations. I find Viking to be really exceptional. We left feeling they made every possible effort to make our trip special. And it was.