As promised, here’s a post on the food on our Viking river cruise down the Rhône from Lyon to Arles (and back to Avignon for the departure). I did not catalogue all of the dishes available, or all of the dishes Nancy and I ate, but this should give you a good idea of what to expect when you take a river cruise.
I’ll say at the outset that the food on our Viking cruise was very good. The quality varied somewhat according to the type of dish and the meal, as discussed below. And I should forewarn newer readers especially that I like food with big flavors. Compared to many of you, and most people of my advanced years in particular, I like food more heavily seasoned. So you can take my comments with a grain of salt, or, I suppose, as over-salted.
Let’s take the food meal by meal, and start with supper. Okay, dinner, if you prefer. It was the most structured meal, as will become apparent below.
Well, let’s have drinks before dinner. Beer and red and white wine are complimentary during lunch and dinner. The wine is Vielle Ferme, a good industrial strength wine sold widely in the US. It tastes better in France, perhaps because travel bruises wine. Did you know that? Always let a good bottle of wine rest for two weeks after it has travelled. The conspiracy-minded may think that the wine tastes better because the French unload an inferior product on the Americans. Naah. I, for one, suspect that the Vielle Ferme tastes better when you are cruising down the Rhône without a care in the world, not even the prospect of the tide reaching your chair. When we neared Provence, a rosé magically became available; not Vielle Ferme, some other brand. It was quite good, and became my go-to for the rest of the trip.
Outside of lunch and dinner, you can purchase drinks of all sorts, and prices are reasonable — 5.4€ for the house wines, more for better wines. Or you can buy a beverage package for 150€ each, actually 300€ per cabin because both people in a cabin have to buy it. That was for our seven night cruise. I presume that prices rise for the longer cruises.
The beverage package is a good deal if you both drink, and an especially good deal if you like cocktails and perhaps a snifter of cognac after dinner. Or before dinner. It also allows you to upgrade your wines at meals and at other times; and you can get wine by the bottle as well as the glass. If, as with us on this trip, only one of you is drinking, it’s not so good a deal, and we passed on it.
As an alternative to the beverage package, you can upgrade your wine choices by buying bottles in the various towns along the way. The staff will uncork it without charge.
Here’s a sample dinner menu. The two pages are shown separately so that you can actually read them:
The Regional Specialties Tasting Menu changes each day, with a different appetizer, main course, and dessert. I had the regional specialties tasting menu every evening as a matter of principle.
The snail appetizer was in a mildly seasoned Provençal sauce rather than the very garlicky butter that, to me, is the real reason to eat snails, which idon’thave much flavor.
It tasted good, but personally, I really don’t see the point of a mild Provençal sauce, one with muted garlic and no capers or olives; but that’s me. On the positive side, there was no need to wrestle them out of the shells, sending the odd snail flying across the room.
The duck was medium rare, just the way you like it. I prefer it rare, but the standard order is aimed at the majority, not at cranks who could have asked for it rare, but didn’t bother to and have no right to complain. In any event, it had a very good flavor. Order the duck the way you like it.
It was a nice meal. You’d pay a nice price for it in a restaurant, as you would with the other dishes Viking served. A coq au vin on the regional menu another night was s standout, very well seasoned, and absolutely delicious served over some buttery mashed potatoes.
Now that was a truly fine meal, worthy of a Michelin star.
All of the desserts were very good, and presented with care.
Nancy, the world’s foremost authority on custards, was a big fan of the crème brûlée.
The most interesting dessert, which I think I had at lunch one day, was a deconstructed banana pudding (‘nanner pudding to some of my readers). I apologize for using the word, “deconstructed”. I’m not normally that pompous. I hope.
A moist banana cake, a slice of banana, some vanilla ice cream, and a smear of chocolate: it was delicious.
Each day, two other appetizers and main courses, and at least one dessert were on offer, as in the menu pictured, There always was at least one vegetarian set. Here’s the shrimp in the menu above, which Nancy had ordered.
And one day she ordered some scallops.
She liked both very much. The seafood was fresh, properly prepared, and well presented.
Finally, as shown on the second menu photograph, a set menu was offered every day — the steak, salmon, or chicken.
Here’s the steak:
Perfectly cooked to medium rare, by the US, not the French standard. The steak came with very good potatoes and onions, and a nice sauce. An excellent meal.
And the salmon:
Actually, I think that may be a lunch serving. You can, by the way, ask for your salmon or steak or whatever to be cooked to your taste. The kitchen is very accommodating.
I never saw anyone order the chicken.
All of the servings were moderate in size, which was nice. Viking did not try to send you to bed bloated, as they do on the big cruise ships. (We only had 180-some passengers on board.) Some people expanded their options and their waistlines by ordering two appetizers and/or two desserts. A few others warmed up before or loaded up after dinner on the cookies that were available at the coffee stations all day. The cookies were good, but only the macaroons (not the macarons) really tempted me.
The portions also were moderate at lunch, but the menu was much less structured, and we were allowed — encouraged — to graze freely for our salad/appetizer course. There were two set menu options, with an appetizer, main, and dessert. Here’s a veal dish I had one day.
And there were continuing options — a hamburger, a hot dog, and maybe salmon. A fair number of cheeseburgers were served, and salmon swam in schools, but I saw nary a hot dog.
Although an appetizer was offered, you could skip that, or you could order it and then head to what I will, wallowing in irony, call the salad bar. At the “salad bar”, the appetizer course was self serve, and there was wonderful variety. Available were all manner of conventional salad materials, including at times whole bowls of anchovies, which are great on French bread, or by themselves. There were breads and cheeses and charcuterie — quite a salad course. There also was an always-enticing array of small dishes — mini-tapas, such as this crostini with sardines and white beans (with no sardine discernible), and diced raw salmon with diced cucumber and sweet onions, garnished with caper berries.
I wound up with a stack of those little plates. The cruise offered a kaleidoscope of these tapas. I particularly remember a carpaccio of beef with pecorino and drops of olive oil, and a delicious spicy blood sausage — probably the best blood sausage I’ve ever eaten. None of that iron taste.
All in all, lunch was a pretty dangerous meal, with a lot of good food to sample, and wine flowing freely. It led to a lot of naps and nodding over books.
Breakfast was great, just great. It was almost entirely self-serve, and you could put together anything from bacon and eggs to an Italian sub. The only thing non-self serve were beverages, which the wait staff insisted on bringing; and the station at which eggs were fried to your order and omelets cooked to your imagination. There were breads galore, from country loaves to baguettes to bagels to sliced white bread(!). No biscuits, of course: we were in Europe. There were various good pastries, and hot and cold cereals. There were cold cuts and charcuterie and multiple cheeses. What’s breakfast without camembert? You could help yourself to lox, whitefish, scrambled eggs, bacon, baked beans, grilled tomatoes, potatoes, a choice of sausages, and probably pancakes and waffles galore. I feel like Charles Dickens describing the Ghost of Christmas Present. There was everything. For all I know there was congee with kimchee. No, I would have sensed the kimchee. Congee, maybe. There probably were other things. I never took a full inventory.
The scrambled eggs were exceptional, creamy and flavorful, much better than the scrambled eggs you get in the US, except at Brennan’s. I had them every day, even though I normally prefer fried eggs, over light. (I would have had to wait briefly for fried eggs or an omelet.) The bacon was, well, mass produced. It was good quality bacon, but the ship apparently lacked room for a six foot flat top grill, and therefore the cooks had to cook the mountains of bacon at once, probably in the oven, to meet demand. Friends, you just can’t get uniformly crisp, separated bacon slices that way. The pork sausages were good, if not as assertive as they might be. I saw the contrast in their sausage with pistachios, that was mild compared to the version we’d had at Aux Trois Cochons in Lyon. American breakfast sausage patties, alas, did not make an appearance. They had turkey sausage, with which I never soiled my fork. It was a great breakfast.
Lawyers love Conclusion sections. It’s an occupational character flaw.
All in all, I recommend the food on the Viking cruises. Everyone says the food is great, and it certainly is varied, well presented, good quality, and well prepared. I’ve mentioned seasoning a few times, but I admit that I’m an outlier when it comes to seasoning. Based on the latest surveys, 94.36 percent of people like food less highly seasoned than I. Food on our Viking river cruise was sophisticated food, aimed at an affluent market with often extensive international travel experience. Of course, the target market is getting on in years, and that can create food issues for people whose digestive systems have not been cauterized, as mine has. The food was seasoned well, and prepared with care.
I recommend that you take a Viking river cruise. The food is good, and the people are congenial and more interested in talking about travel, especially about other river cruises, than any friction points. Your shipmates are interesting people who have led interesting lives and live in interesting places; people from whom you can learn much without straining you little gray cells. The included tours are very good, well worth taking, and extra tours are available in the afternoons that cost extra, but tended to save people from overindulging at lunch.
Viking accommodates guests’ needs, such as lighter tours for those with limited mobility. They’ll accommodate your diet. They’re unfailingly pleasant, and they do a great job keeping your fellow passengers pleasant. Viking keeps guests well informed, and there are no surprises. Well, no unpleasant surprises. Flutes of champagne can materialize without warning.
Go. Enjoy yourselves. Broaden your horizons. With a minimum of restraint, you won’t broaden your waistlines too much. I gained a mere five pounds during a 13-day trip, a record low for any trip involving Paris. Nancy and I are already are talking about our next Viking river cruise.
And while you’re at it, click “follow” on our front page to receive blog posts in your email box. Or bookmark us and check in from time to time. If you’re planning a trip, you can “Search” the name of the city, state, or country for good restaurants (in Europe, usually close to sites, like the Louvre or the Van Gogh Museum, that you’ll want to visit in any event). Comments, questions, and suggestions of places to eat or stories to cover are very welcome. And check out our Instagram page, johntannerbbq.