Come and board this ship with me. It is like stepping into a cozy palace, the bright sunlight streaming in through myriad glass walls, giving the impeccably polished brass and flawlessly clean floor a magical glow, while the warm woods and comfortable furnishings invite you to sit with your feet up and stay a while. The staff, in their crisp nautical uniforms, greet every person who arrives as an honored guest, and you have no doubt that their entire focus is guaranteeing that you will be safe and happy and comfortable for the eight days you are in their charge.
Viking’s long ship Kara is much smaller than her ocean going sisters, and the 200 people on board easily become fast friends. The lounge invites you to linger and visit and savor any drink of your choice, sharing stories of life, teenagers and grown children back home. We met a couple who has spent a lifetime in Christian broadcasting and published multiple books. There was another who has a six car garage and collects and restores classic cars. There was a younger couple of whom the wife owns and trains horses, and she connected quickly with the afore mentioned broadcaster who, in his spare time, has participated in rodeo-type ride and shoot competitions. There were retired police officers, nurses and teachers. Let me add that the servers, including the bartender, are not only quick but funny, and they are more than willing to engage in conversation about their own interesting stories.
The captain himself welcomed us into his wheelhouse, which, as you might expect, no longer has a wheel. The ships are now guided along by state-of-the-art electronics. One of the coolest things is the way the control room goes up and down to allow for passage under bridges. We also stood on the deck one night as we traveled through a series of locks, even once passing another Viking ship making the same trip but in the opposite direction.
Our cruise director, Ria, was absolutely and completely over-the-top hilarious, but in the blink of an eye shape-shifted into compassionate problem-solver extraordinaire. In honor of the 4th of July we gathered on the open Sun Deck to watch her perform with lighted ropes because the captain told her “No fire wands.” Lest you think that is ridiculous, let me tell you that she is, in fact, a trained dancer, and we “ooo’d” and “ahhh’d” admiringly at her performance against the backdrop of the beautiful Cologne Cathedral and its magnificent bridge.
“How was the food?” you ask. Delicious and plentiful of course. Let me add that the maitre d, once informed of my allergies, made certain that the menus for the next day were in our room every night so that I could alert them to my meal choices, and they could accommodate my needs. He did it always with a wonderful, warm smile and made certain I never felt that I was putting them out in any way.
I could go on and on, but I am sure you are getting tired of this thesaurus-like stream of superlatives. I do have to mention one more thing. At front is the open Aquavit Terrace where we often had lunch from their buffet. (By the way, they had hamburgers and hot dogs for the 4th–picnic fare that I didn’t have to cook!) This open terrace allowed us to sit outside as we floated past the quaint villages and formidable castles of the fairy-tale Rhine. Unlike an ocean cruise, where you have hours of magnificent but indistinct horizon, a river cruise offers an endless vision of life going on in the same setting where it has for hundreds of years. This, my friends, is heaven.
Was everything absolutely perfect all the time? Of course not. Being away from the familiarity of home and routine is, by its very nature, occasionally stressful. But this cruise is as close as I have ever come. When we take future river cruises, and we will be taking more river cruises, it is entirely possible that we will not be able to replicate our experience on the Rhine. No matter what adventures await us, however, “we will always have the Kara.”