Travel Weekly’s managing editor, Rebecca Tobin, was aboard two new Viking River Cruises ships in France this week: the Heimdal and the Forseti. Her second dispatch follows. Click to read Rebecca's first dispatch.
From the perspective of a veteran ocean cruiser: Things are a little different on the river.
I knew things were different when I checked in on the Viking Heimdal. A crew member asked for my name, handed another crew member my cabin key card and wished me a good afternoon. Approximately 120 seconds later, I was in my cabin.
That was it. It was the first time in recent memory where I checked in to a cruise or hotel and no ID or credit card was involved.
Approximately an hour after that, I was disembarking the Heimdal to do that thing I've always heard that river cruisers do: Walk to town. I left the ship without dipping my ID card in a machine or telling any crew that I was leaving. One moment I was on the ship, the next I was on land.
Maybe I did that wrong? I approached a group of Viking crew, thinking that one of them would order me back up the gangway to register my disembarkation — for example, as was the charming system on a Windstar cruise I took years ago, I might slide a bead representing my cabin number from "onboard" to "ashore."
"How do I get across the street to the town?" I asked.
"There's a crosswalk up there," one woman said, pointing.
"Thanks," I said, and I walked away.
Approximately 5 minutes later, I was safely across the street and walking through the historical streets of Avignon.
It was even easier in Bordeaux, where my ship, the Viking Foresti, was docked alongside the promenade along the river. I opted for Viking's guided tour, which met on the promenade.
I did feel a little silly asking Viking reps things like: "So how does the ship know I'm ashore?" But I figured this would be a question asked by any seasoned ocean cruiser who've chosen a river cruise. It's just a little different.
Now, don't get me wrong: It takes about two seconds to dip an ID card in a machine, and there are many good safety and security reasons for cruise ship key cards. Among them: There could be 3,000 passengers to account for on a cruise ship, which is often docked in a port with its own security standards. Its next port call could be in a new country, so the line needs to know if it is leaving anybody behind.
This is a river cruise in France. There's probably less chance that the ship would have to leave my passport with the port agent because it had to depart and I was still in town.
On the other hand, there are plenty of similarities. The Viking ships are built in yards in Europe, so it still has ship design elements, down to the types of door handles and locks on the doors. My room is called a cabin. And you unpack once. We're visiting several destinations via the water. It feels very familiar — which is perhaps why the small differences seemed striking.
As I was pondering the similarities, my eye fell on an open bottle of water in my cabin. I'd better put the cap back on it, because if the seas get rough ...