“You’re alone?” It’s a question I answer almost every time I travel alone which leads me to the 10 things I liked about cruising solo with Viking River Cruises on Portugal’s River of Gold.
Wait, was I just in Portugal for 10 days? Was I treated like royalty for seven nights aboard a Viking River Cruises’ ship while sailing the Douro River? Am I now fighting jet lag?
“Yes,” is the answer to the questions above and it was pretty dang amazing. It was not my intention to cruise solo, as a travel blogger, Viking River Cruises invited me and a guest to experience a European-based cruise in order to share with my community. Long story short, what was supposed to be a girlfriends’ getaway with my BFF turned into a solo adventure. Not only was this my first time cruising solo, it was my first time cruising period.
Yeah, I know. Crazy. I live in Florida, home to several cruise ports, but the cruising experience hasn’t floated my adventurous boat. However, after my experience with Viking, I’m open to cruising vacations. In fact, my enjoyment of this trip has led to me refinding my fondness for cruising. Consequentially, I have been considering my options for a future voyage and have been looking around at some Cruise holiday deals. It always feels better to try and save money on a trip wherever possible.
In upcoming posts I’ll delve into detail about the specifics including shore excursions and the whole ship experience. In the meantime, here are the 10 things I liked about cruising solo with Viking Cruises.
Ability to Do My Own Thing
I’ve never been one to follow the masses and really don’t care if people think I’m the odd one. On Viking, I was able to join the group or hang out on my own in peace. I soaked up the sun and read on the ship’s sun deck while watching the gorgeous views of mountains laced with row after row of grapevines. Not including crew, one of the biggest gems on the Viking Torgil was a self-service beverage station that pumped out coffee, cappuccino, hot chocolate, and the like. Hot chocolate lattes became my friend. Next to the machine were usually pastries baked daily by the crew.
Included Shore Excursions
One of the things I’ve heard from those who have cruised with other cruise lines is how they feel nickled and dimed with shore excursions. During this Portugal’s River of Gold itinerary, with the exception of arrival day, every day had an excursion included with the cruise fare. There were a couple of excursions that cost an additional fee but I didn’t find it necessary to sign up for them.
By participating in what was already included and exploring on my own, I feel as though I had a full, enriching experience. Most excursions offered free time to break away from the group and explore on my own. Of course, nothing was a requirement and if you wanted to peel away on your own during the tour, you could as long as you notified your guide for the headcount.
Small Town Feel
Viking Torgil has the capacity for 106 passengers and during my trip, we had about 100 with a 35-person crew working the boat. By the end of the journey, I had seen everyone at least once and met at least half the ship over the 9-day itinerary. Traveling solo, I probably met more people than other passengers did because when you travel with people you know, you’re in a comfort zone and don’t have the need to meet other people.
I pride myself in being an introvert but sometimes, I question that. When people are around, I’m comfortable being alone but at the same time, I thrive off others and make it a mission to meet as many people as possible and make them feel comfortable. I carried my pack of Personalogy – An Absurdly Provocative Game for Thinking People –game cards with me to whip out and break any ice.
There’s something warm and fuzzy about walking through the lobby and dining area with crew and guests saying, “Good Morning, Jennifer,” or, “Good Evening, Ms. Huber.” Made me feel as though I was part of a family.
Kept it Casual
“Do I need to wear socks at dinner?” A friend who recently booked a Viking River Cruise with his wife asked me.
The answer is “no,” not even during the Captain’s Dinner night which is supposed to be dressier than the rest of the dinners. I’m fashionably challenged but do enjoy dressing up, even though it stresses me out finding the perfect outfit. If getting dolled up isn’t your thing, don’t sweat it with Viking Cruises.
The “dressy” items I brought were three dresses, four skirts and three scoop-neck tops – I wore the dresses and two of the skirts (twice each) but toward the end, I wore my shorts to evening meals.
Note: Although dress and atmosphere is casual, Viking River Cruises’ crew and experience are extremely professional.
Open Seating at Meals
Speaking of meals, seating is open with Viking Cruises which proved to be the best way at meeting new people. I never gave it much thought but a fellow passenger told me they were on an ocean cruise solo and assigned to a large table. Those people hardly attended dinner leaving the passenger sitting alone during most dinners. During my trip, although I met several people I would enjoy sitting down with everyday, I intentionally found new people to sit with and usually found myself with folks from Britain.
That Cozy, Safe Feeling
When I feel safe in an environment, I’m able to relax and enjoy myself. Viking River Cruises made me feel safe by having a boarding pass system. When you leave the ship, you must pick one up and return it upon your return. This way the crew keeps track of the passengers. During some shore excursions, Viking’s ship program director, guide and local guide warned about pickpockets where appropriate, this included Lisbon and Salamanca, Spain. This was a reminder to keep my head on a swivel.
My Own Retreat
I won’t say I didn’t get lonely, because I did. For whatever reason, the eighth day was difficult but in the end, I’m thankful I had my own cabin to retreat to and recharge. I cherished those quiet moments of sitting my balcony watching the stunning vistas of the Douro Valley pass by as I wrote out postcards and journaled.
Explored Port Cities on My Own
I didn’t do it often but each night when the boat was docked, passengers were able to leave the ship and explore the port city. It was always a nice opportunity to change up the scenery, interact with locals and check out the nightlife.
On-Ship Activities for Everyone
On several days, there were on-ship activities and opportunities to learn more about Viking Cruises and Portugal. Some of the activities I participated in included a Portuguese language lesson, galley tour, wheelhouse tour, cooking lesson and learning about Viking’s cruises, including the 2017 launch of a cruise on the Mississippi River and the new ocean cruises.
No Roommate Drama
When you share close quarters with someone over an extended period of time, there’s going to be some tension and I don’t care if you’re with a stranger or your soul mate. Traveling solo, I escaped any potential roommate drama, which may or may not have happened during this trip.
Would I Do it Again?
I was treated extremely well by the crew, felt comfortable at all times and sincerely found sailing with Viking River Cruises this an ideal way to explore and understand a portion of Portugal. Do I see another river cruise in my future? You betcha!
Note: The Portugal’s River of Gold over the Douro River is a 10-day itinerary with two nights in Lisbon and seven nights on the ship.
View additional photos from the trip on my Flickr stream.
Disclosure: I was an invited guest of Viking Cruises’ public relations agency. Opinions are my own and my posts have not been reviewed by Viking Cruises or their representatives.