Run Away Katie here, just three-and-a-half weeks away from Spain and the Camino de Santiago, and I'm doing something crazy: I'm plonking down insane amounts of money for another trip. Who does that? Crazy people, crazy people do that. Why? Because they were seduced by adverts shown during Masterpiece Theatre.
You know which ones I'm talking about? They show you like every amazing place on two continents and tell you that you can see them all, in the lap of luxury, from a Viking River Cruise ship. It's like travel porn. You know what, here, just watch it:
You totally want a ride on that now, don't you? Travel porn.
So, because I've just booked a Viking River Cruise for next December (more on that later), I'm happy to share with you some of the best and worst pieces of the booking process. You'll have to wait a little over 15 months to find out if I think it was worth it.
How It Works
You can shop online (and you should) to find the route, dates and prices. I found the online prices listed for the cruise itself were very accurate. Viking also had a reasonably limited number of "extras" that were tacked on my final bill so you should actually feel good about budgeting based on what's listed on the website.
To actually book a cruise, you'll need to either call your travel agent or the number listed on the Viking website.
A booking specialist will "hold" your reservation for up to 72 hours before you need to put down an actual deposit to retain your cruise.
Deposits are $500 plus the cost of any insurance you opt to purchase.
You'll need to select a departure date and its recommended you book any extensions at this time, as well. It's easy to remove an extension later but you may find your selection is fully booked if you wait and book later.
You are required to provide the names, birthdates and contact information for everyone traveling on the trip.
Viking will book your air travel, as well, if you would like them to. The promotion running at the time I booked offered a, frankly, great deal on our air travel. Flights are booked at Viking's discretion unless you pay $50 per passenger for the Air Plus option.
Air Plus offers you the ability to select your preferred airline, request a certain departure time and/or number of stops. It also provides your flight info much farther in advance than the standard option which is a real benefit for people like me who are control freaks and want to know this stuff.
If you want to fly in early or leave from a different city than your cruise ends in, no worries. $100 per passenger will buy you some flexibility. Even with the $150 in extra fees for both Air Plus and the flexibility option, my airfare was still quoted at about $350 per person less than what we're currently seeing on travel websites for similar flights.
Your full balance will be due 30 to 60 days following your booking.
Once you've placed your deposit, you need to visit the Viking website to fill out the passenger information forms.
What We Love About the Booking Process
At first, I'll admit I was more than a little annoyed there was no web-booking option. What do you mean, I have to actually talk to a human on the phone? This wound up being a real benefit in the end. Even though it took about an hour, Pedro, my Viking travel salesperson, was super helpful answering a lot of my questions, helping me find offers that would work for me and generally making me feel pretty good about spending a ridiculous amount of money at random on a Saturday. I would have missed out on my airfare savings had I just made some assumptions and not talked it through with Pedro.
There is a good deal of flexibility once you book. If you need to change your schedule, modify your post-cruise extensions or even re-book on another cruise, you have a lot of freedom to do so. We found this to be invaluable since cruises seem to book up quickly and you do need to do a lot of advance planning to travel with Viking. Trip insurance adds even greater flexibility.
We haven't (thankfully), had to try it out yet, but the trip insurance offered looks to be pretty comprehensive. Our initial reaction is that it will cover the most likely issues travelers encounter.
Even though it cost us $50 per person, we love Air Plus option. As a bonus, if Viking can't find a flight option you'll approve, they'll refund you the $50.
Additionally great, the ability to add your own independent travel before and/or after a cruise and still take advantage of Viking's air travel reservation system.
Shopping at Viking is like shopping at Kohl's: never, ever buy if there isn't a sale. I've been watching cruise prices for about six months now and there is almost always an airfare deal and a half-price-cruise fare deal running at any given moment. Do not pay full price. Wait a week for the next sale.
I already know the cruise itinerary, where I'll be staying on my three-night extension to Prague and even my cabin number on the cruise. As a super-planner, this is like travel gold.
If Pedro, my sales rep, didn't know an answer, he looked it up. He also immediately shared some email information with me so I could forward it to my mom. (My mom is my travel buddy on this trip...Katie and Gloria Do a European Christmas.) He sold me on options without being pushy or talking me into things I didn't need. A+ customer service, Pedro.
Most of the cost of my trip is airfare and the cruise itself. There aren't a lot of hidden fees or costly add-ons involved in booking. Unlike more traditional cruise set-ups, you won't see a bunch of additional costs for excursions. Wine and beer is even included at lunch and dinner.
Things We Don't Like That Much
The full balance of your trip is due anywhere from 30 to 60 days after booking. Yes, you read that right. Not 30 to 60 days before your cruise. Not 6 months out. 30 to 60 days after booking. So save up before you book, kids.
Speaking of doing things in advance, you really do need a long-term plan to travel with Viking. We were shocked to learn, literally 15 months out, that several cruise options were already completely booked up. For the best selection and choices of cabins, you should plan at least six months in advance. A year seems to be about average. If you're a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants kind of person, you may have some trouble making this work.
The trip insurance looks pretty good but it's also expensive. Your premium is based on a percentage of your total tour cost so more expensive cruises will carry higher insurance costs. Our cruise ran about $500 per person in insurance fees. Ouch.
All costs are based on double-occupancy. We believe in traveling with others (your family, your friends, your coworkers, your significant other, whoever) so that's not necessarily a problem but solo travelers can expect to be penalized, as usual, for traveling without a buddy.
Our Favorite Tips
Start a dialog with your sales agent. I wound up with a couple good recommendations and options as we worked on my booking.
Travel insurance, travel insurance, travel insurance...whether you obtain it via Viking or a third-party company, if you're paying thousands of dollars a year in advance, be sure to protect your investment.
We cannot stress enough how important it is to wait for an offer that works for you. The "half price" cruise offer is usually on for much of the year and you can combine this with some other sales so shop smart and take advantage of as many discounts as possible.
Research in advance. We looked at a wide variety of selections before we narrowed our choice down to a German Christmas market cruise in early December.
Cabins towards the middle of the boat tend to be more stable in rough waters so book there if you're worried a bit of turbulence will affect your journey.
It's surprisingly easy to book these cruises and, so far, we're pretty impressed by the customer service experience Viking has offered. This bodes pretty well for what we think we'll experience on the ship...when we finally get there. In 15 months. Advance planning, troops...we're taking it to the extreme.