14 surprising things to know about Viking River Cruises in 2023 – First time European River Cruiser tips

everything to know before river cruise

As someone who prides herself on being more of a traveler than a tourist, I have been one to avoid cruises. I had the belief that you don’t get to experience the destination, as you are mostly on a ship, but I hadn’t been exposed to the world of European river cruises. Let me explain why a river cruise is a perfect way to immerse yourself in a European destination. 

A floating hotel where you only unpack once, waking up in a new city almost daily, with pre-arranged tours that are included? As a first time European river cruiser, these are all things you can expect. This complete guide (from a Viking river cruise)will tell you everything you need to know. 

Table of Contents

1. You won’t experience sea sickness on a river cruise

It never even felt like we were moving when we were on the ship. It was calm and serene. So if you have an trepidation about cruising, a European river cruise should be on your list to try.

No seasickness on a European River Cruise

2. There are no inside staterooms on European River cruises

Staterooms on Viking cruise ships are spacious

This is a standard among various river cruise lines. Ships are smaller with about three levels or under 200 rooms. To elaborate on staterooms, any river cruise has at least a window, so you’ll have a view outside. We sailed on the Viking Hermod in France. With 3 levels, level 2 and 3 all have balconies. However, you should know that a balcony may often have times where it is butted up against another ship while the ship docks. So seriously consider if this is worth the paying more for a balcony. 

3. Shore excursions are included daily with most river cruises and Viking’s were exceptional.

Shore excursion in France on Viking river cruise

Shore excursions on Viking river cruise are well planned

The tour guides are knowledgeable and able to provide a thorough history of the the towns we visited. On Viking, the daily shore excursions mainly gave us a feel for the town we were visiting. There are other optional tours you can pay for, but even if you just do the included tours, you will get a feel for the city.  We did two of the optional tours: the Aqueduct tour and a Medieval town. Both were great but we thought the Aqueduct was quite extraordinary. The two tours for the two of us totaled $366. 

Click to watch the videos on what to expect on a Viking River Cruise

4. Viking river cruise stateroom bathrooms are incredible

Bathrooms on Viking river cruises even have heated floors!

I even hear they’ve won awards for their bathrooms and I am not surprised. Here’s why: they are geniuses at making the most out of the space they have to work with. There is shelving in the bathrooms, meaning both passengers, can each put their (bathroom kit, makeup bag), whatever you call it on the shelf. Here’s the best part: bathrooms have heated floors. Can you imagine that on a cruise ship??!! Plus the showers are angled and allow for more shower space than you think. Doors open in both directions making it super easy to get in and out. 

5. Drink packages on a river cruise -are they necessary?

Wine and beer are included at no charge on Viking river cruises

It depends. Many cruise ships nickel and dime you if you don’t get a pre-purchased drink package. On our Viking river cruise and most other river cruise lines, they’ll automatically provide beer and wine with lunch or dinner. We noticed at breakfast champagne is free flowing to have your own mimosa or champagne by itself. At lunch dinner you have a choice or white or red wine and a selection of beers. But if you want something special like a Rose or Chianti you will need to pay for it. 

If you want another kind of wine or cocktail you’ll pay for it. OR you can buy their Silver Spirits Beverage package and order from a selection of wine or cocktails whenever you like. I would definitely get this if you like cocktails. The package is about $20 per person per day, which is a lot less than ocean cruises charge. They have many top shelf liquors available like Patron, Bombay Sapphire, etc. So you can order these anytime afternoon until about 10 pm. Plus the beverage package comes with a minibar in your room which gets refreshed daily. 

6. How many restaurants are on a river cruise in Europe?

Filling breakfast options on our Viking River cruise

Usually just one. Meal times are also a set time, so if you were out all day and want to eat at 5 pm, you won’t be able to. Usually breakfast begins at 6 am and ends around 10 am. Here you can choose from a hearty buffet of scrambled eggs, breads, fruits, yogurt, sausage, bacon, cured meats and more. Or order a la carte an omelette, French Toast, Pancakes or more. Lunch seems to be planned around shore excursions and was served as early as 12:15 and as late as 1:15. Dinner is nightly at 7:15 pm. Doors to the restaurant open 15 minutes before dinner so arrive on time if you want your choice of seating, especially outdoors, which has limited tables. Lunch and dinner is a 3-course meal. More on that below. 

7. Dress is casual at dinner on a river cruise

You can wear most clothing from day excursions to dinner on a Viking river cruise

No need to dress up. I packed a different outfit for dinners at night, but I really didn’t need all those clothes. I could have worn jeans most days for excursions and swapped to pants at dinner. In fact one evening I even kept my jeans on at dinner. 

8. Viking river cruises are Adults only

This is my favorite thing about this cruise line! You must be 18 years or older to cruise with Viking. I for one, applaud this. Too many opulent vacation destinations can be spoiled by bratty kids who are undisciplined. We saw several groups generational travel, which seems like a fantastic idea. 

Check out our river cruise going under a bridge on the Rhine river.

9. Getting on and off the ship on a European River cruise is as easy a taking a few steps

Rather than long lines to get on and off, I could go from my stateroom to the street in about 2 minutes. This included scanning my card to get off. So it is super easy as Christina Ernst, owner of VIP Alpine Tours travel agency puts it, “If you forget something in your stateroom, it is easy to run back and get it on a River Cruise. More and more of my clients, even those in their 40s are opting for a river cruise because it’s a terrific way to see Europe.”

10. The food is elevated on a Viking river cruise

Exquisite food on the Viking river cruise – best of the European river cruises in 2023

Because they don’t have to prepare a meal for thousands, but a few hundred, the food can be made with delicious options. We really loved the Coq Au Vin and the Halibut another night, desserts were also spectcular

Choose between a chef’s recommendation based on the region you are visiting or a traditional menu that is more akin to the American palette with items like steak, hamburgers and hot dogs. Their hot dog was the bomb by the way!

Some of the delicious food we had on our Viking river cruise

They grow their own herbs to use in dishes and drinks for guest on board. This makes a difference. When I ordered a Gin Basil Smash, I could smell the basil when the bartender plucked it from the fridge to muddle into my drink. Even other passengers could smell it and it piqued their interest in what I was having. From then on, the bartenders knew my drink, and with basically a head nod they would bring it to me. That would never happen on a huge ocean cruise. 

11. Safety is abundant on a Viking river cruise or most any European river Cruise

Lots of excursions on a Viking river cruise

As a woman, I might feel intimidated to find myself in a new city and set off exploring on my own. However, with Viking you are good because they immerse you into the city you are in, even if they are there for only a day. We had at least one if not two shore excursions INCLUDED per day in our trip. And the guides are well versed on the are and are part of Viking. I also loved how the kitchen staff works well to bring out meals quickly so you don’t miss out on making your excursion. 

12. Wifi is free on board and included with your river cruise purchase.

However, you only have 2 connections per room. This is usually adequate for most passengers, but if you have two cell phones and a laptop, one will be disconnected. Also there’s no connection to Netflix or other streaming services. They do have several movies available on demand, but don’t be expecting a large library of movies.

13. You don’t have to bring adapters on a Viking river cruise

This was a huge plus. Bedrooms have both European plugs and American (220 and 110 voltage) plugs. Plus we even had a plug for USB. Wish we had more but, hey, I’ll settle for one as it makes life easier. I mean, how great it is NOT to have to worry about your charging ports? 

14. You’ll go through many locks on a European River cruise

Locks are so close you’ll be able to touch the inside wall

We went through 12 locks during the course of our 7-day Viking cruise

This is quite an interesting process. The purpose of locks is to make sure the water is level. Some are not too deep, while others can be super deep. You’ll enter into a tight space (there are mere inches in between the sides and you can reach out and touch them) with metal on both sides. The ship stays in place while water is added or depleted.  I believe the deepest we experienced on our Viking Cruise in 2023 was 20 feet. 

FAQs – European river cruise / Viking river cruise (2023)

Watch my videos from my viking cruise in 2023 here

What should I pack for a river cruise in 2023?

Pack at least one jacket and scarf. I would recommend a jacket with a hood. We went on an open air train ride and the hood helped keep my face ad head warm. The scarf will definitely help you feel warmer on those cooler days. Make sure to pack comfortable shoes as you’ll be walking on a lot of cobblestone streets. The key is layers. For a 7-day river cruise 2-3 pairs of jeans, a couple casual dresses and one or two dressier pants would be fine. 

How many restaurants are on a river cruise ship?

Usually just one. This means meal times must be adhered to. Breakfast is the most generous of time allowed as you can dine between 6 and 10. However, at lunch they may run out of certain things. One of the things we loved though, was the 24 hour a day coffee machine where we could get a cappuccino, latte, espresso or just regular coffee! 

Do you have to dress up for dinner on a river cruise?

No, it is quite casual. They recommend wearing slacks and nicer shoes or casual dresses for women. I think of it like a business casual recommendation. Though a couple days into our river cruise many were wearing shorts and jeans at dinner. 

Can I wear jeans on a Viking river cruise to dinner?

Although it isn’t encouraged, we saw several people wearing jeans and sneakers at dinner. Probably not a great idea on the first evening, but it is more understandable after a day’s excursion later on in the cruise. 

Should I get a balcony room on a river cruise? What are my options? 

River cruise ships docked next to each other

That depends. As stated earlier, there are no inside staterooms on river cruises. So, even the least expensive room will still have a window. Then there is something called the French Balcony on a river cruise. This means you’ll get something like a sliding glass door but you won’t be able to sit out there. Lastly is the veranda which comes with a small table and chairs. 

Is there are gym on the river cruise? Is there are pool on board?

No gym on the Viking river cruise – but there was a walking track

Some cruise lines offer a small pool or hot tub, but you won’t find the large pools with slides or zip lines over them like on an ocean cruise. Our Viking cruise did not have either. Leave your workout clothes at home because other than a walking track on top, there was no gym on our river cruise.

Do I need to pack an adapter for a Viking River cruise? 

No, you don’t need to pack an adapter as they have 110v plus in the rooms! 

What is the average age of a guest on a European river cruise? 

While they skew older, (I would say most guests were over 65), there were several younger couples and friends traveling together on our Viking Cruise. I think this is changing as more and more younger people want to really see the place they are traveling vs. party on a ship. 

To find out more about Viking river cruises visit their site.

With my first river cruise under my belt, I am hooked. I love the stress free transportation Viking offered, unpacking one time but still visiting so many towns with a knowledgeable guide. What’s not to love about a river cruise?

About the author

Malika Bowling

Malika is the author of several books including Culinary Atlanta: Guide to the Best Restaurants, Markets, Breweries and More! and the founder of Roamilicious. She is also a Digital Marketing and Social Media Consultant. Follow us @Roamilicious on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest for the content not shared on the blog. And don't forget to subscribe to our newsletter (subscribe box below) and never miss a contest, giveaway or the latest must visit restaurant!