Posted on Sunday, March 23, 2014 by Peter Knego
A whirlwind of christenings and celebrations begins with Viking Cruises at Avignon, France. This first post includes a quick look at the brand new VIKING HEIMDAL Longship.
All photos by and copyright Peter Knego 2014.
Tuesday, March 17, 2014
From the friendly greeter at Marseille Airport to the spanking new Viking River coach, my first European river cruise assignment was off to a seamless start. Over the next five days, there would be visits to no less than four Viking Cruises Longships, a record-breaking christening ceremony and a sampling of the Avignon and Bordeaux regions of France.
Some fifty miles north-by-northwest of Marseilles, the bus had reached the ramparts of the ancient town of Avignon on the mighty Rhone. An army of red-shirted stewards awaited alongside no less than three identical Viking Longships that were nestled together on the river’s left bank.
We gathered our luggage and were led onto the VIKING BURI, where we were offered a cool refreshing towelette and a fruity drink, then crossed onto our home for the next two nights, the VIKING HEIMDAL.
I was immediately taken by the contemporary Scandinavian style of the VIKING HEIMDAL, which is named for the Guardian of the Norse Gods. These ships were designed by the stellar Yran and Storbratten of Oslo-based Y & S with interiors by London-based SMC Design and Los Angeles-based Rottet Studios. The most impressive space is the skylight-topped lobby spanning Decks Two and Three. On the HEIMDAL and the two identical Longship siblings in Avignon, the designers have skillfully melded warm colors and recessed lighting into a soothing backdrop of muted linoleum, veined marble and blond wood-toned accents. Others in the 30-member Longship platform have slight variations in décor but share the identical layout.
There are four decks in all on the Longships, which are a whopping 443 feet long and manned by a crew of 50 who tend to 190 guests. Accommodation is located on Decks One, Two and Three with public spaces on forward Decks Two and Three and open deck space on Deck Four. An interesting design aspect is that the passageways connecting Decks Two and Three are off-center, allowing for different configurations of accommodation on each side.
We were assigned 205-square-foot Category B Veranda Stateroom 209 on the starboard side of the ship, just aft of the reception area. It was configured with twin beds that convert to a queen and featured floor-to-ceiling sliding glass doors that open to a full-size veranda. Amenities include telephone, refrigerator, safe, hair dryer & bottled water (replenished daily)…
…and individual climate control (which will only operate if balcony door is firmly shut), space under the bed(s) for storing suitcases, a roomy wardrobe with wooden hangers, a pair each of 220 and 110 volt outlets, a Sony 40-inch flat-panel TV with premium entertainment package (CNBC, CNN, National Geographic, MGM Movies, Sky Cinema, videos on demand and “View From the Bridge”) and bathrobe and slippers (available upon request).
Balconies are compact but have glass railings and space for two seats and a cocktail table. Our balcony was obscured by the neighboring VIKING BURI, so the one shown is from a port side Veranda Suite but has the same dimensions and appointments.
Each Viking Longship stateroom has a private bathroom with shower and premium bath products and a few nice surprises like heated floors and a heated mirror that is resistant to fogging.
Viking supplies luxe L’Occitane toiletries, including soap, shampoo, conditioner and moisturizer.
I had only a few minutes to document and explore, so began with a few unoccupied suites and cabins before the ship filled up with guests.
A full tour will follow in a Decked! feature comparing the four Longships I was able to see that week. Suffice it to say that the two 445-square-foot Explorer Suites at the aft end of Deck Three are among the most impressive digs on any river and offer a promising hint at what the accommodation on board the Viking Ocean ships will be like.
Forward of the reception area on Deck Three, there is the Observation Lounge, a study in Scandinavian sleekness with picture windows, warm wood accents and sophisticated colors.
Farther forward on Deck Three is the partially enclosed Aquavit Terrace, a favorite nook for snacks and continental breakfast.
I put the cameras to rest for a chance to chat on the air with Peter Greenberg, the television and radio travel guru whose roving studio was set up in the Leif Erikson Explorer Suite.
As Avignon’s ramparts took on a golden hue, we next headed ashore for a quick walk to a bridge crossing the Rhone for an exterior view of our ship, which was mostly obscured from the shore by the VIKING BURI.
On the downriver side of the bridge, we caught our Longship with her distinctive “box bow” that allows for more accommodation (and hence a lower price point than the competition). Celebratory garlands were draped over the catlike “eyes” on either side.
Upriver, we had a fantastic view of the legendary medieval arch bridge that was completed in 1185 and rebuilt many times over the centuries. Today, only four of its twenty two arches survive, rendering the famed bridge into a mere jetty.
A brisk walk returned us to the HEIMDAL in time for dinner. The ship’s handsome restaurant is located on forward Deck Two and features round and banquet top table seating.
A signature Viking touch are its fresh spices, which are grown on deck and cultivated in the restaurant.
Dinner settings include blue glass bread plates, linen napkins in silver rings, ergonomic cutlery and fine stemware.
Dinner was fresh and delicious, starting with a veggie sushi California roll amuse bouche, followed by a choice of four First Courses (including lobster bisque, an arugula salad, beef carpaccio, and vanilla poached scallops), three Main Courses (pan seared halibut, asparagus gnocci and Beef Wellington) and Dessert (New York Cheesecake, Chocolate Souffle, Ice Creams and Sorbets) as well as fruits and cheeses. There is also an always available menu with standard favorites such as Caesar salad, roast chicken, salmon and New York steak.
Viking is all-inclusive, with a daily selection of white and red wine, a particularly nice touch on its French itineraries. In addition to wine, beer, soft drinks, specialty coffees and bottled water, tips and shore excursions are included.
After a long day of travel, the rest of the evening was intentionally truncated so we could retire to 209 for some coveted sleep.
End of Viking Conquers The Rhone, Part One
Much More To Come…
Special thanks: Sara Conley, Martin Cox, Ian Jeffries