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  • Writer's pictureJason Leppert

Live Cruise Review: Viking Embla, Grand European Tour 2013 – Included and Optional Tours

The last few great days onboard Viking River CruisesViking Embla have included many berg (or burg) visits, not of the glacial variety but rather German towns – Bamberg, Rothenburg and Wurzburg. These outings have highlighted one of the best values provided with a Viking vacation – included tours or shore excursions in the fare.

A Jazz Band Performs Beneath the Statuary in Bamberg

Included Tours

Ocean cruise lines do not include any tours unless you’re talking about Azamara Club Cruises’ singular AzAmazing Evenings or all-inclusive luxury line Regent Seven Seas Cruises’ shore excursions. However, Viking River Cruises, at its value price no less, includes a tour for each port-of-call, and they’re excellent. Also shaking up value ocean cruising, Viking Ocean Cruises, once launched in 2015, will extend the free-shore-excursion-per-port policy. Kudos, Viking!

Bamberg is Vespa Friendly

A Sample of Bamberg’s Great Architecture

One of the delights of river cruising is the close proximity to the points of interest of any given destination. Full walking tours direct from the longship are not a rarity, and when buses are involved – many of which that are brand new Viking-branded ones – the majority of the tour time is still spent off-board in the heart of the towns. The guides are also exceptional and communicate to the group using Whisper audio receivers that you conveniently keep with you for the duration of the cruise and charge in your own room over night.

Bamberg Cathedral

Subterranean Chapel Beneath Bamberg Cathedral

Our excursion of Bamberg, Germany was one such included tour that took us to the UNESCO World Heritage Site that is the city’s medieval center. There we saw incredible structures like the four-steeple Romanesque Bamberg Cathedral. On Sundays, large tour groups are not allowed inside the church, but we headed in on our own after the tour ended to see the impressive stonework and subterranean chapel.

The Old Palace as Featured in The Three Musketeers

Michaelsberg Abbey in the Distance

As much of the preserved town appears like a classic film set, The Three Musketeers 2011 production was shot in part here such as at the Old Palace courtyard. It was easy to see why the filmmakers chose this timeless setting. Unfortunately, the movie was a total box office failure. Nonetheless, I will be adding it to my Netflix queue to revisit the great filming locations.

A Former Church Through the Shades

Curious Light Fixtures

This was one instance where the allotted free time to wander around on your own before being bussed back to the longship was too long. Again being a Sunday, very few shops were open, and as it was, we enjoyed both an ice cream and a pastry at two different cafes. That part, of course, we didn’t mind. If nothing else, it allowed me the time to take some more artsy shots of the area above, and it was great when we did come back to the longship to be welcomed warmly back by the ever friendly crew and their fun sign.

The Welcoming Crew

Optional Tours

In some ports, Viking offers additional, alternative or extended tours at extra, albeit reasonable, cost. We really wanted to visit Rothenburg, Germany per my dad’s high recommendation, and a tour there was available to extend the included Wurzburg morning excursion into an all day journey with lunch for only 64 more Euros each – definitely less expensive than the going rate. The tour was definitely worth it and then some.

Rothenburg Architecture and Painted Signage

St. James Church Dominates the Mighty SUV

The walled city is very much a time capsule from the Middle Ages and was also used for film production decades ago for Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. The preservation of the town is no small feat either as numerous restoration projects were under way while we were there. Indeed, the mix of stone and wooden architecture is interesting and is indicative of the wealth required to originally build the structures with masonry signifying the greater expense.

Perfectly Bavarian

One of the Imposing City Gates

The biggest surprise was the enormous Kathe Wohlfahrt Christmas museum and store. Despite its perceived modest exterior size, the inside was a multilevel wonderland displaying and selling every imaginable item celebrating the holiday. Tableaus included animated plush animals in cute poses at the entrance before photography was prohibited farther in.

The Signature Kathe Wohlfahrt Truck

Inside the Christmas Store

In fact, as teddy bear fans (you’ve no doubt seen our signature friends in our stateroom photos and videos), we particularly enjoyed the store Teddys Rothenburg for its abundant plush inventory. Our tour concluded in beautiful Wurzburg (seen in the header image above) including a visit of a spectacular palace that sadly does not allow the taking of any interior photos. The Main River has a colorful array of buildings along it and also features a dramatic spillway at this great city.

Teddys (Love) Rothenburg (and So Do We)

The Dramatic Spillway at the Main River in Wurzburg

A Return to Food

It’s also worth noting that the dinners onboard have reached a new level of excellence. Last night’s seafood selections and preparations were supreme. My starter was one of the best crab cakes I’ve ever had, looking like a moist crabby patty (insert SpongeBob SquarePants joke here), topped with a shaved fennel and pickled red onion salad, and accompanied by a truffle remoulade. It was a veritable flavor explosion.

Crab Cake

Things got only better when my entree – a macadamia nut-encrusted black cod – arrived at the table. Paired with papaya chutney and wild rice, this was honestly the single best fish dish I’ve ever enjoyed. The crust was perfection of the crumbly kind, and the fish remained succulent and flavorful throughout. The delectable chutney was a terrific bonus too. The artful plating framed what reminded me of the Batman insignia, ready to take off in flight straight for my salivating palate. My compliments to the chef!

Black Cod

And I think this last one speaks for itself. Yum!

Raspberry Cake

What do you think about included shore excursions? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below…

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