I recently had the wonderful opportunity to travel to with my father to help him celebrate his 80th birthday with a fabulous river cruise through the famed French wine region, Bordeaux. My father is a long time connoisseur of fine wines and gourmet food – there was no better way to celebrate than this. He was inspired while watching the popular British TV series, Downton Abbey – the Scandinavian cruise company Viking dominated PBS advertising slots with glittering, alluring ads for their European river cruises. He asked me if I’d like to accompany him, as he has mobility issues and travels best with a companion. How could I say no? Plus I would be able to spend time with one of my most favorite people on earth.
We chose the Chateaux, Rivers and Wine tour not only for the wine tasting and French cuisine, but also because it didn’t require as much walking. There were walking tours through the towns we stopped in, which included Cadillac, Pauillac, Libourne, Bourg, Blaye, St. Emilion, and of course Bordeaux itself, but we didn’t have to do those. The highlights were the visits to the many top notch wineries – with road transportation provided.
It was a perfect trip. Not only was it completely doable for my father logistically, the Viking ship itself (the Forseti) was beautiful. With its modern Scandinavian design and elegant decor, it was a pleasure to simply spend time on the boat – rain or shine. Our room was well appointed with all we needed, including plush comfortable beds, a walk in glass shower, heated bathroom floor, all the amenities of a five star hotel, a TV with information about local culture, weather and upcoming activities (and movies should you choose to watch them), and a private veranda where we could sit and watch the French countryside go by. The common spaces on the ship were equally lovely- and with only 95 staterooms, the ship never felt overrun or crowded. The dining room, small library, sun deck, lounge and main lobby were all incredibly inviting. But our favorite spot was the Aquavit lounge – the upper deck eating area that was more of a sun deck enclosed in glass windows – with sunlight streaming in and views in all directions. The huge doors leading to the outdoor eating area could be folded and tucked away so that the entire area was open to the fresh air. We often opted for the lighter buffet lunch that was served daily there so we could sit and enjoy the beauty of the ship and the scenery of the river.
This wonderful ship came with equally wonderful staff. All logistics were carefully managed, tours were well organized, and there was sensitive attention to my father’s mobility needs (they even had a small elevator on the ship). My special dietary needs (gluten-free) were impeccably tended to by the Maitre D. Pleasant greetings and friendly conversations were always the norm – from the lobby concierge to the housekeeping crew, and the dining room staff provided my father with a splendid celebration after dinner on his birthday. After only a week we felt we had a made a whole new host of friends and knew we would genuinely miss them when it came time to leave. It far surpassed my expectations.
The fact that we were able to use frequent flyer miles to secure round-trip business class tickets, and also use Hyatt hotel points for our additional three nights in Paris, made the cost of the entire experience less daunting. What better use of airline miles and hotel points than for a special father-daughter trip? I do love to travel for free – but I also enjoy the fact that saving on travel costs means there’s money left over to do something unusual and luxurious like this. I’ve been to Europe many times, including living in Italy for 9 months as a college student, and this felt like a whole new adventure. I definitely plan to save my pennies so that I can partake of another Viking river cruise (their Grand European Tour has caught my eye). If you want to experience Europe in a wonderful new way, I highly recommend taking a look at one of many river cruises that they offer. You won’t regret it.