When the Program Director of my recent Viking Cruise, Sharon, said that the crew’s goal was to exceed our expectations, I didn’t pay too much attention. After all, who doesn’t claim to exceed their customers’ expectations?

Over the next 8 days, as we made our way up the Rhine, from Basel, Switzerland to Amsterdam in the Netherlands, I learned how wrong my initial reaction was.

By the end of my trip, Viking had indeed exceeded my expectations, though not in the ways that I would have expected.

 
 

It wasn’t the big things that make me a Viking convert. I expected the food to be fantastic – and it was. I thought that the ship would be beautiful – and it was.

Instead, it was the small, unexpected details that set Viking apart. It was the genuine emotion that several members of the crew showed when we left the boat for the last time. It was the way that the activities found the perfect balance between warmth and precision. It was the attention to detail that only comes when someone truly cares.

I knew that Viking would make us feel like royalty. I didn’t expect that, by the end of the trip, I would feel like I had joined a new family. This may sound like hyperbole, but, I hope you will see what I mean after you read about my trip.

So, rather than focusing on the magnificence of the ship, I’d like to talk about the individuals that made my trip amazing.

Kyle Turned Fine Dining Into a Family Dinner

On the first night of the cruise, my family and I found a genuine treasure. Separated from the main dining area, at the front of the ship, we discovered an intimate restaurant that served Scandinavian cuisine.

Our original plan was to eat in the restaurant on the first night and then join the other guests in the dining hall for future meals. Then we met Kyle. I’m not exaggerating when I say that Kyle lit up the room. He was more than an attentive waiter. He was a natural story-teller and entertainer.

In the coming days, Kyle told us about his family back home and his adventures on the open ocean. It is no exaggeration to say that we became friends.

On a professional level, Kyle was the perfect waiter. When he noticed that my daughter-in-law added ice to her wine, he made sure that a glass of ice was waiting before we sat down at every meal. Our favorite table was always waiting for us, even when we forgot to make a reservation. He made our meals perfect by taking care of a hundred little things that we noticed – and a thousand that we didn’t.

Sharon Balanced Precision and a Personal Touch to Make the Shore Trips Amazing

Event management is tough. As anyone who has every organized a corporate party or customer briefing knows, event managers rarely get noticed… until something goes wrong. For the 8 days that I sailed with Viking, I watched Program Director, Sharon, with a sense of genuine appreciation.

Every time we stopped at a new city, Sharon would spring into action, organizing activities and making sure that everyone got back to the ship safely. It wasn’t just Sharon’s precision that impressed me – it was also her personal touch.

No matter how busy she was, Sharon took the time to get to know her guests. Her competence gave the passengers the confidence to explore. Her caring touch made the passengers want to tell her about their adventures. It was a wonderful thing to watch.

One Special Gentleman Showed His Soft Side

On our last day on the ship, I noticed one of my favorite crew members looking a bit down in the dumps. I won’t mention his name here because I don’t want to ruin his manly image, but, he is the kind of person who is the life of the party.

When I asked him if everything was ok, he told me that he always gets a bit emotional on the last day of the cruise. He explained that, on a river cruise, the crew has time to bond with the passengers. They are excited to see a new set of faces, but, they are also sad to see their new friends go.

As I talked to the other members of the crew, I realized that this gentleman’s experience was not unique. Almost everyone that I spoke with talked about the process of letting go of the passengers.

I’m definitely not a cruise “expert.” Perhaps all crew members, on ships large and small, feel this way. Somehow, I suspect that the crew of the Viking Hlin was different. As I mentioned previously, river cruises are more intimate than ocean cruises. You have time to bond with the other passengers and with the crew.

Every crew member has a job to do – and they perform their duties with precision and care. At the same time, they care more than you would expect. For many, working on a cruise ship is definitely more than just a job.

Sharon was right when she said that the crew would exceed our expectations. Every day, in a hundred small ways, the crew made us feel like royalty. More importantly, they made us feel like family.

Do you agree that, when it comes to travel, it’s the “small things” that count? Have you ever taken a river cruise? What was your experience like? Let’s get a conversation started.

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