Viking Ocean Cruises vs. Viking River Cruises Including Pros & Cons
Updated: Sep 11, 2021
Viking has three divisions consisting of Viking Ocean Cruises, Viking River Cruises, and Viking Expeditions. This post compares their river and ocean cruises. It's also going to cover Viking's strengths and weaknesses.
You'll get facts and my viewpoint as a cruise-selling travel specialist. I want to include a warning. I'd love everything having to do with vacations to be positive, and I appreciate and value a lot of what Viking is about and offers. But this post is going to present the positives and negatives. It's not going to be all "unicorns and rainbows."
For a fully rounded perspective, I'm sharing the thoughts and feedback from my clients, Laura and Joe. They have sailed multiple times on Viking's river cruises and recently returned from their first Viking ocean cruise. Watch for quotes from Joe in blue later in the article. I think you'll appreciate his input.
Viking Cruises' From Birth (Berth?) to Now
Viking Ocean Cruises' Ships
Viking Ocean Cruises started in 2015. Now, with eight ships, they sail North and South Americas, including the Panama Canal and the Caribbean, Northern Europe, the Mediterranean, Asia, and the Pacific.
Their eight 930-passenger ocean ships are identical, with minor changes to some public areas on the newer ships.
Viking River Cruise' Ships
Viking River Cruises began in 1997. Growing in numbers quickly, Viking currently has 78 river vessels, including their 56 signature "longships," which I'll be discussing. You'll find Viking sailing rivers in Europe, Russia, Ukraine, Egypt, and Asia. They will begin sailing the Mississippi River in August 2022.
Viking's riverboats hold 100 to 386 passengers. The longships specifically accommodate 190 guests. All longships are identical, with possibly a few minor public room changes.
Viking is the largest riverboat company with the number of ships and the number of guests they bring along the rivers. No other line builds as many ships so quickly or out-markets them.
The Viking Experience
Viking is often referred to as "luxury," a word possibly overused in the travel industry. There's no doubt that Viking is certainly upscale. But for those who have been on a luxury line, you'll not feel it's quite at the same level. Yet, it's a very elevated experience beyond the premium lines. I believe it's a crossbreed and would put it at "ultra-premium."
All of Viking's cruises are port-intensive. You are going to be in a port every day (river) or with few "at sea" days (ocean).
Viking Chairman Torstein Hagen encourages us to "Be curious." Viking offers excursions that immerse you in the local cultures. Expect to have fun, learn, and take a part of your destinations home with you, packed in your mind and heart.
You will find the river longships nearly identical to each other and the non-longships boats to be relatively similar to the longships in many ways. You'll also find the ocean ships to be similar to each other.
All of the ships are beautiful, comfortable, and elegant. Travelers who are destination-focused tend to appreciate the consistency in the vessels. The region you are sailing in is your destination, and the floating hotel that hosts you between the ports does it with style.
Features & Services Offered on Both Viking Ocean and Viking River Cruises
There's quite a bit that's consistent between both types of cruises:
1) Viking is "adults only" with a minimum age of 18.
2) No smoking.
3) No formal nights.
4) Dress is casual by day and "country club casual" in the evenings.
5) Free Wi-Fi.
6) All accommodations are for single or double occupancy. Ships do not accommodate triple or quad occupancies.
7) All staterooms and suites have views, most of which have full balconies or French balconies. All guests get to enjoy natural daylight and scenery.
8) Both ocean and river ships have Scandinavian design features. There is a lot of natural light due to floor-to-ceiling windows around the ships, leather and natural wood elements, and wool fabric textures. Designs are sleek, light, clean, and upscale casual, but not ultra-modern. There's a feeling of bringing the outdoors inside and create a peaceful, relaxed atmosphere.
9) Beer, wine, and soft drinks are included with shipboard lunches and dinners.
10) There is no limit on the amount of wine, beer, spirits, and soft drinks you may bring onto the ship at embarkation or in a port.
11) The optional Silver Spirits Premium Beverage Package is available if you wish to have unlimited drinks and prefer premium wines at meals. The cost of the package which can be purchased in advance is $19.95 per guest, per day.
12) Dinners on the riverboats and in the main dining room on the ocean ships are open seating. You can sit with whom you want and when you want during dining times.
13) In addition to the main dining room, both types of ships have the Aquavit Terrance.
This venue blends the indoors with the outdoors.
14) 24-hour availability of complimentary specialty coffees, teas & bottled water
15) All accommodations have both 110V and 220V outlets to accommodate
American and European appliances.
16) All cabins have heated bathroom floors, anti-fog mirrors, 40-42" flatscreen TVs with Movies On Demand, mini-refrigerators, security safe, hairdryer, and premium toiletries.
17) Robes and slippers are available.
18) Twice-daily housekeeping by your stateroom steward
19) One complimentary excursion per port is offered along with optional ($) excursions.
20) Business Center with computers
21) Library (stocked with books & board games)
22) Walking track
23) Ground transfers when airfare is purchased through Viking
24) Onboard cultural enrichment programs with guest lecturers and presenters
What You'll Experience Only on Viking's River Boats:
Regional guest performers provide entertainment, typically musical or dance, indicative of the area's culture in which the ship's sailing.
Foods are mostly locally sourced. In addition to some well-known meal entrees, you will find many regional cuisines and mostly regional wines and beers. Constant locally sourced foods also mean the freshest of foods.
Each longship has its own herb garden for chefs to pick from.
Laundry and press services are available.
While both ocean and river have local lecturers and programs, the riverboats are heavier on demonstrations and activities.
Extras You'll Experience Only on Viking's Ocean Boats:
With 930 passengers, Viking's ships are on the smaller side for ocean ships which are large enough for more activities, food, and entertainment options, but intimate enough for guests to know each other and small enough to get into ports not available to mega-ships.
The difference in size allows the ocean ships to offer a lot more options than their riverboat cousins. Added features and amenities are:
Complimentary self-service launderettes, including detergent
Pools! A covered main pool, a pool with an open roof, and an infinity pool
24-hour room service
"We had room service breakfast on early excursion days which was excellent. They offer the full breakfast menu." -Joe
Alternative restaurant dining at no extra charge
A top-rated spa with a thermal suite that offers a thalassotherapy pool, steam room, snow room, heated lounge chairs
The ships have a theater, and they travel with their own entertainment staff and guest entertainers. Guests can enjoy tributes such as ABBA and possibly the Beatles and the Rat Pack, as well as headliners.
"The evening onboard musical entertainment and lectures were exceptional. All of the public areas had musical accompaniment in the evening, there were also extensive libraries throughout the ship and a variety of quiet areas." -Joe
Seven more restaurants and eateries!
Chef's Table (dinner with wine pairings, reservations required)
Manfredi’s Italian Restaurant
Mamsen's (think "Nordic comfort food")
World Café (buffet)
Wintergarden (afternoon tea, finger sandwiches & pastries)
The Kitchen Table (unique interactive culinary experience from shopping through preparation and dining)
"Chef's Table was outstanding." -Joe
The Good, the Bad, and What You Want to Know to Decide if a Viking Cruise is for You:
Food is subjective, but the consensus is that Viking's food is very good. Riverboats may have one edge due to the freshness of ingredients being procured throughout the sailing, fresh-from-the-garden herbs, and local infusion on the menus.
The dining variety, on the other hand, is better on the ocean cruises. There's a choice of seven restaurants and eateries compared to the two on riverboats. That offers a lot of change of scenery and dining-type options.
Tip: Chef's Table changes their menu every 2-3 days, depending on the length of the sailing. Keep that in mind when making reservations if you wish to eat there more than once during your cruise.
"The choice of restaurants onboard was a new experience compared to the river cruises. The quality of the food was comparable to the river cruises and the kitchen and wait staff were the best." -Joe
Receiving notices from Viking in advance of sailings has been a continual weak point which we mainly experience regarding flights and operational changes. For that reason, my agency tries to predict possible weak points and increase verification of those potential items.
To be fair, Viking did a wonderful job conveying all of the health protocols of our clients who recently cruised to Iceland regarding Covid-19 protocols for them and for Iceland.
MY VIKING JOURNEY:
This is Viking's online guest portal where clients complete their Guest Information Form, reserve shore excursions, and purchase the optional Silver Spirit Premium Beverage Package. Ocean cruise guests can also manage spa and restaurant reservations.
Many of our clients have experienced "computer glitches" with the system. Sometimes it's more than glitches. One instance was an excursion mysteriously getting canceled for one person in the cabin. Viking blamed the client, which is possible. However, it would be hard to accidentally have done this, and he's pretty computer savvy.
Another example was clients who made reservations for Chef's Table in advance. As soon as they got on the ship, they learned that the reservations never got to the ship. We don't know if the problem was My Viking Journey or shoreside-to-ship communication. It's always wise to take a copy of confirmations of advance purchases, appointments, and reservations with you. Thankfully our client took their restaurant confirmation with them and the ship staff happily "made it happen."
"Prior to sailing, we struggled to book our excursions and dinner reservations online. The servers kept crashing, reservations disappeared, excursions were dropped and our accounts either were double-booked or dropped. Although we (including you Connie) spent hours on the phone with Viking reps something always turned up missing or incorrect. Upon boarding, we found some of our excursions were incorrect and there was no record of any dinner reservations." -Joe
Viking normally requires final payment 12 months in advance of sailings. While that's not unheard of, it is unusual. Frankly, I'm not a fan of people having to part with their money that early. I imagine it's at least part of how their aggressive shipbuilding is paid for. (Oh my, I promised my viewpoint, didn't I.)
As much as I dislike the very early final payment, Viking does have a discount offer that I like that has been embraced by some of our clients. If you pay by electronic check instead of credit card, they will give you a 3.3% discount on your cruise. If you are planning to pay off your credit card once your next statement arrives and you have purchased third-party trip insurance such as Travel Insured, it's a win-win option for saving some money.
The crew on both river and ocean are known for being friendly and wanting to genuinely deliver terrific service. They adapt quickly to resolving any problems and also "fixing" lost or erroneous details that had been planned pre-sailing.
"The response of onboard Viking Guest Services to (missing pre-booked plans) could not have been better..... Armed with your email Connie, we went to Guest Services along with many others on the ship, expecting a battle. Well the staff could not have been more accomodating. Within minutes we had our excursions and requested dinner reservations. That experience set the tone for the remainder of the trip.The smallest change or request was either accomodated or a satisfactory alternative solution provided. -Joe
The ocean ships' size enables them to get into smaller ports that can't be directly accessed by other cruise lines' larger ships.
This is the last of a three-part series involving Laura and Joe's trip. The first was what it was like cruising during Covid-19. The second highlighted their experience in magical Iceland.
I look forward to helping you “navigate” your river or ocean cruise. Let’s talk about what line best fits your lifestyle, interests, and needs. Email me so we can start off with a complimentary telephone consultation to meet, see if we’re a good fit, and start planning your next great vacation or group trip!