Exploring the World in Comfort

Viking Cruises Vice President, Michele Seagesser, in the "Let's Talk Travel with AAA" studios with Sandy Fenton.

By now we all know that European River cruises have exploded in popularity. They continue to be the fastest growing segment in the travel industry - and I totally get what all the fuss is about.

In October 2011, my husband , Stewart , and I experienced our first European river cruise and sailed the famous Blue Danube from Budapest, Hungary to Nuremberg, Germany onboard Viking River Cruises' "Prestige". We loved every moment and it totally exceeded my expectations. (and having 100+ ocean cruises under my belt - that's not an easy task).

I couldn't stop "gushing" about our experience and knew this was the first of many river cruises to come. When asked what itinerary I wanted to do next - that was simple... I wanted to go back to the Danube - during the winter - for a Christmas Market cruise. And we did.

In December 2013 we returned to the Danube, and this time we were onboard Viking's newest Longship - the stunning "Magni". We began this truly magical journey in Budapest and sailed through Slovokia and Austria before ending in picture post-card perfect Passau, Germany.

A Viking River Danube cruise is all about scenery and multiply that by a thousand (no - a million!) during the Christmas season. Beautiful , snow-covered rolling hills, ancient castles and waterfront twinkling lights welcome you to every cobblestone village and Christmas market along the way. All ports-of-call include a complimentary excursion, mostly walking and sightseeing tours combined with free time. Holiday shopping in the traditional and authentic European markets combined with feasting on local Christmas treats and specialty hot mulled wines were a dream come true.

Words can't even describe the beauty of Vienna and Saltzberg, Austria (think Sound of Music) during the holiday season and the ancient Benedictine Abbey overlooking the fairy tale village of Melk, Austria is simply amazing.

A river cruise is very different from an ocean cruise. For starters, the pace is slower and the ships are smaller with fewer people and no children.

Forget about crowded on-and-off the ship tender service - you literally sail directly to the heart of your destinations and walk right off the ship into the center of town. (Very important to pack comfortable walking shoes and easy travel attire.) A Viking River Cruise is all about cultural enrichment, traditional local entertainment , fine dining (including complimentary wine, beer & soft drinks during lunch and dinner), luxurious amenities, lovely staterooms, outstanding staff and a light and airy feeling throughout the ship.

There are no intrusive welcome aboard announcements, no frozen tropical drink specials and no loud reggae bands playing their version of "Margarettaville". Instead, guests get comfy and cozy (with Austrian wines and German beers) and become acquainted in the Viking Lounge.

So if you're looking for 24/7 scheduled onboard activities, high-energy casinos, head-to-toe specialty spa treatments, glitzy shopping venues and Vegas-type entertainment…jump off the ship…now!

One of my Christmas Market cruise highlights was sailing with Michele Saegesser, Viking's Vice President of Sales. I was thrilled to recently welcome her to the WHP580 "Let's Talk Travel with AAA" studios and ask her a few more questions.

Q - How would you describe the difference between a Viking river cruise and another line?
A - Viking's tremendous success has been built on owning and managing our own product. We controll quality from beginning to end and make sure to offer a consistent value and service standard. This year Viking will have the largest fleet available with 51-ships allowing more itineraries, departures and stateroom types.

Q - How would you describe a "typical" Viking guest?
A - Well traveled, 50+, past ocean-cruiser wanting a more intimate and insightful travel experience. More cultural immersion and less crowds is a priority.

Q - What are your top 3 expert "words of advice" to a first time Viking River cruise guest?
A - Leave the tuxedos and gowns at home. Bring your most comfortable clothes. RELAX.

Q - What makes a Christmas Market sailing so magical?
A - As you know Sandy, that's the only word to truly describe the Market season in Europe. First - it's the food in the Markets ; bratwursts grilling, hot Gluh wines and pastries & cookies baked only at this time of year. Children's choirs and musicians on the streets combined with the festive decorations and handmade ornaments. A Christmas Market cruise was my first river cruise and it made such an impression on me - that I joined Viking that year.

Q - When is the best time to book a Viking River Cruise?
A - Now! Viking sells out all ships, all year long. If you wait, you lose.