Venturing through Bordeaux with Viking

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St. Michael's Cathedral
St. Michael’s Cathedral

a room with a view

The Viking Longships are designed to bring the outside in with picture-perfect views of the water and floor-to-ceiling windows allowing plenty of light. As Richard Marnell, senior v.p. of marketing, Viking Cruises, explains, “It’s not so much about what’s on the ship as what’s on the shore.”

“There are no slides or spas, but that’s not the intention,” he says. Instead, guests can relax on board a ship that is more modern than opulent. In fact, the design of the Longships focuses more on space and efficiency, allowing your clients more comfort at a price point that is 20 percent lower than other river cruise companies.

The ships feature three full decks and 95 staterooms giving guests plenty of options when it comes to accommodations. “I think the cabin mix here is very unique,” said Torstein Hagen, chairman of Viking Cruises, during a press conference on board. “You can be on the bottom floor and have a limited view, but it’s a fantastic value.”

Options include the Explorer Suites, which are the largest river cruise suites sailing in Europe; 2-room Veranda SuitesVeranda Staterooms; and French Balcony Staterooms. On board the Viking Forseti in Bordeaux, we stayed in a Veranda Stateroom, which was cozy yet not too much of a squeeze for two people. While we didn’t spend a ton of time in our room, we did enjoy the luxury of sitting on the verandah while the ship was sailing. The view changes when the ship is docked, since sometimes the river cruises double park so your client’s room may face another ship or a river wall, but this just means more time exploring and less time indoors.

Other amenities that had us forgetting we were on a river (the ride is super smooth), and feeling more like we were in a high-end hotel, were the twice-daily maid and turndown service, L’Occitane bath products and heated bathroom floors. Don’t worry about getting too cozy though, if you set your intercom volume on high, you’ll have fair warning when a shore excursion is about to depart.

sensational sightseeing

As we experienced the Chateaux, Rivers & Wine itinerary sailing through the Bordeaux region, we could see how this trip would appeal not only to wine lovers and connoisseurs, but also to those who love culture, architecture and, of course, French cuisine.

“This particular itinerary should appeal to a very broad audience,” says Joost Ouendag, v.p. of product development, Viking River Cruises. “In Bordeaux, it makes perfect sense to highlight the food and wine, but Bordeaux has phenomenal architecture and it’s a wonderful city to just run around in.”

The itinerary offers the perfect blend of city and country with tours highlighting city life and landmarks in Bordeaux, as well as wine country tours in the Medoc region and truffle excursions in the Bergerac area. Guests also have the option to pick and choose what they want to see in each area. For example, in Blaye guests can explore the UNESCO World Heritage site with a guided tour of the 17th century citadel, or venture off to medieval Cognac touring one of the well-known Cognac houses and creating their own blend of Cognac to take home.

Another key factor is that while your clients will have plenty to keep them entertained, they can opt to do as much or as little as they like.

“I think overall the nice thing about river cruising is that people love the way it works and love just sitting on the ship. You spend a few hours cruising, and when the ship stops, you’re really ready to go,” Ouendag says. “A good cruise has a nice pattern between some down time and some sightseeing time.”

regional touches

“We built this itinerary from scratch, so it was a great opportunity to rethink everything that we do, and it became a good testing ground for a number of innovations, and Bordeaux offered the opportunity to implement them,” Ouendag says.

Guests will find touches of the region throughout the ship, such as special cakes, canneles de Bordeaux, with recipe cards left in their stateroom.

“The idea here is that on many different occasions you will find little printed materials and learning moments where we try to bring the destination into the experience as much as we can,” Ouendag explains. “The opportunity was there for us to integrate the sightseeing with what we do on the ship.”

Don’t worry though—there won’t be a test at the end of the experience. These subtle touches feel less like a classroom lesson and more like a scene straight from the Travel Channel. Throughout the 8-day itinerary, your clients will have the chance to learn more about wine not just from the wine tastings and vineyard tours, but also through onboard presentations explaining what “terroir” means and how to open your nose to wine and spot all of its flavors. The presentations conclude with a wine and food pairing dinner, so guests can experience everything they talked about during the presentations and put it to good use.

“The whole idea is to make this experience very portable so you don’t just go back home with a bunch of pictures. That’s where the recipes and presentations come in,” Ouendag says.

five-star service

With only 190 passengers on board, guests don’t feel anonymous as they would on a larger cruise ship, and the staff really does start to know you by name. As Ouendag explains, “You’re not so close together that the other people may become the part of the trip you don’t enjoy. The ship allows you to pick the handful of people you want to hang out with for a week.”

Unlike some other ships, there is no reserved seating at the restaurant, so guests have the freedom to come and go as they choose.

The concierge on board can help your clients find everything from the best spot to enjoy coffee and people watch in Bordeaux to the top shopping in town. And while guided tours with audio headsets are included in the fare, guests can arrange their own excursions if they aren’t interested in going with a group.

“The whole idea is that as much as possible, you own your vacation,” Ouendag says.

Most sailing dates for the Viking Forseti are sold out until November and December where starting rates for an Explorer Suite begin at $6,256 pp.

rapid river cruise growth

Viking is on a roll this year, launching 18 new river cruise ships in 2014 and 12 more ships on the way in 2015. Next year the company will also be launching its first ocean liner, the 930-passenger small ship Viking Star, which will feature many of the amenities the company is known for: an all-inclusive package that doesn’t “nickel and dime travel agents,” as Hagen says, that includes complimentary WiFi and shore excursions. ●