Category Archives: Viking Cruises

Travel News: Can Online Passport Renewal be on the Way?

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Can Online Passport Renewal Be On The Way?
Travel Market reports the State Department’s Bureau of Consular Affairs is considering online passport renewals, according to a story in Federal News Radio. Speaking on a panel at a symposium in Washington last week, community relations officer for passport services Carl Siegmund said State is looking to roll out a limited, online renewal option in mid-2018, “along with new push notifications to help applicants stay informed on the status of their applications,” including updates via email and SMS text. “We’re trying to move from paper to digital,” Siegmund said. Fifteen percent of passport applicants have issues, the top reason being passport photos. Currently, photos are submitted to the State Department’s passport services office through a third party or directly from the applicant, and they often are of “low quality or grainy,” and this can add three or four weeks to processing time. The passport services office being more directly involved in accepting a passport would greatly reduce the issue, Siegmund said. The State Department expects 21 million Americans to apply for passports in 2017 and 20.4 million in 2018, up from 14.5 million in 2015 and 16.8 million in 2016. Siegmund also said that in 2016, the passport services call center received 1.4 million phone calls for application status checks.

Viking Creates All-Suite Design For New Nile Riverboat

A recently acquired Nile River vessel is being stripped down to the steel in a complete renovation that reflects Viking River Cruises’ Scandinavian design. Viking Ra will carry just 48 passengers on a new Egypt cruise-tour, ‘Pharaohs & Pyramids,’ set to launch in March 2018. Rebuilt as an all-suite vessel, Viking Ra’s interiors will be designed by the same team responsible for the Viking Longships. The look will mingle Scandinavian design and local influences like traditional geometric Arabic patterns and terrazzo floors. The Restaurant will serve three full meals and a selection of regional and international fare. Other rooms include a clinker-built bar, The Lounge with floor-to-ceiling glass doors and The Spa for massages and other treatments. Three accommodations categories, each 291 square feet, include 20 Veranda Suites with a full-size veranda in the living room and a French balcony in the bedroom. All suites have premium amenities such as a hotel-style bed, luxury linens, sofa, bathroom with shower, air conditioning and flat-screen televisions. In addition to two Jacuzzis, Viking Ra features a pool at the back of the ship, while a sanctuary from the sun is provided by sculptural ‘sail-shades’ inspired by local dhows and intricate mashrabiya-influenced screens surrounding the Pool and Sun Deck.

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Royal Caribbean Announces Return To New Orleans

RCI has announced Vision of the Seas will return to New Orleans with a seasonal home-based cruise ship in late 2018. The Vision of the Seas will sail seven-night itineraries to the Bahamas and Yucatan Peninsula from the Port of New Orleans’ Julia Street Cruise Terminal. The ship will sail on Saturdays. Before repositioning to New Orleans on Dec. 15, 2018, Vision of the Seas will offer two 16-night sailings through the Panama Canal from Miami to Los Angeles and from Los Angeles to New Orleans, marking the first time in three years a Royal Caribbean cruise ship will traverse the Panama Canal.

Airport installs Departure Terminal Prayer Booth
In a bid to calm the nerves of fearful flyers, a prayer booth has landed at one airport in Germany. The bright red cubicle, installed at Stuttgart Airport’s Terminal 3, features 300 prayers from various religions in 65 different languages. For no fee, travelers can enter the converted photo booth and use a touch screen to select their prayer of choice, from a Tibetan monk chant to the soothing remarks from an American TV preacher. The prayer booth is an offer by the airport’s chaplains to provide a moment of contemplation. Designed by Berlin artist Oliver Sturm, the booth offers a vast variety of prayers, including the Christian Lord’s Prayer, the Jewish Shma Israel and the Islamic muezzin’s call to prayer. The Hindu Hare Krishna chant, Buddhist sutras and prayers of Shamans from New Guinea are also available to play. In addition to the big monotheistic faiths, polytheistic religions and animist beliefs are also included. The ‘Gebetomat’, which roughly translates as ‘Pray-o-Mat’, was first designed by Sturm in 2008. Its red cabin has a gray curtain and an adjustable swivel chair inside. The booth is free of charge and will be available for three months at Stuttgart Airport’s boarding area next to Gate 310. The artist writes on his home page that ‘all prayers are real prayers of believers, gathered in worship, prayer rooms, homes’. Sturm has designed several prayer booths in recent years that have been installed at schools, universities and museums.

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Filed under Europe, Royal Caribbean, Viking Cruises

6 Travel News Tidbits

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1. Viking Cruises partners with National Geographic

Viking Cruises will sponsor National Geographic’s first fully scripted global anthology series, “Genius,” which will tell the story of Albert Einstein. During the global premiere of Genius — April 25 at 9PM ET/PT on National Geographic — Viking will showcase their brand campaign “Time.” The Founder of Viking, Torstein Hagen, is a lifelong admirer of Einstein and a physicist himself. Read more on their website.

2. Hilton rapidly expanding

In 2016, Hilton opened a whopping 354 properties — that’s nearly one per day! Hilton is especially progressing in China, with 328 properties open or to open. In total, Hilton has 4875 hotels open worldwide.  

3. More attention to flying needs for children with neurological issues

Wings for Autism®/Wings for All® are sponsoring airport “rehearsals” specially designed for individuals with autism spectrum disorders and individuals with intellectual/developmental disabilities. The programs are designed to alleviate the stress that families who have a child with autism or intellectual/developmental disabilities experience when flying. It provides families the opportunity to practice entering the airport, obtaining boarding passes, going through security and boarding a plane. Learn more here at The Arc’s website

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4. What’s NEW for the 72-Hour Visa Free Transit in Beijing

Beijing has introduced new regulations concerning the 72-hour transit without visa. Travelers must now fill in an application and wait for clearance. An application form and background check are required for stays over 24 hours. So travelers need: 1) onward ticket, 2) application form, 3) background check. This system doesn’t necessarily exist in other Chinese cities as they can be different. In Shanghai, for instance, you can stay double the time (6 days / 144 hours) without a visa. Ask your WIT Travel Agent to Learn More.

5. Avalon Waterways Announces A New Ship

Avalon Waterways is expanding in 2018 with a new ship for the Mekong River, adding new active and themed cruises and cutting the single supplement for all European river cruises. The line’s next new ship will be based on the Mekong River in Southeast Asia, sailing between Ho Chi Minh City and Siem Reap. The 36-passenger vessel will be called Avalon Saigon and will launch in September 2018. The cabins will be slightly bigger, at 245 square feet, with sliding French balcony doors that extend 9 feet. The 14-foot windows have screens to keep out insects. Ask your WIT Travel Agent about available cruises, itineraries, and pre- and post-cruise land tours. 

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6. Did You Know? Two-thirds Of Travel Websites In EU Mislead On Prices

According to a European Commission report, 2/3 of EU websites display misleading prices. Of the 352 price comparison and travel booking websites checked in October 2016, the Commission found 235 gave prices that were not reliable. The sweep of websites, conducted with consumer protection authorities, found that in 1/3 of cases, the final price was not the same as the first price shown. In 1/5 of cases, promotional prices were not available at all. Additionally, in 1/3 of cases, the final price or the way it was calculated was not clear. In a quarter of instances, websites did not make it clear that room availability applied just to that site, and rooms might be available through other channels. The Commission said the 235 websites will have to correct the irregularities and it will ensure sites comply with national enforcement procedures.

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Filed under Avalon Waterway, China, Cruises, Europe, Travel by Ship, Viking Cruises

Where in the World is the WIT Agent? — Sailing the Viking Ocean!

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We’re continuing the Celebration of National Cruise Month! Virtually all major cruise lines are offering special discounts and rates this month! Call our office to inquire: 503-224-0180 or email info@wittravel.com.

Where in the World is the WIT Agent? — Sailing the Viking Ocean!

WIT Agent Nancy Fowler, a longtime fan of cruise vacations, is out on the open seas this week onboard with Viking Ocean Cruises!

Viking Ocean Cruises is the ocean branch of Viking Cruises, famous for their state-of-the-art river cruises. Itineraries are diverse and delightful, with ports such as Barcelona, Bergen, San Juan and Limassol. Step deep into history and natural beauty for a week or a month—it’s up to you!

Infinity Pool, artist's rendering, image provided by Viking Cruises

The Viking Ocean Cruises boasts a fleet of five all-veranda ships with elegant and minimalist Scandinavian design. Viking Star, the flagship of the line, received numerous laudations from Cruise Critic, CNN, Berlitz and more. With just 930 guests at full capacity, these small ships give access and intimacy that larger cruise lines just can’t compete with.

We have sent countless clients on Viking Cruises, which come highly recommended for their service and all-inclusive packages. Their immersive program of educational lectures, special dining, regional music performances, folkloric shows and an onboard cooking school are designed for the sole purpose of providing an enriching experience for guests.

In 2014, we organized the air, cruise, hotel, and pre-/post-cruise arrangements in Russia for 70+ of Portland’s own Royal Rosarians.

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All-Inclusive Cruises include:

  • – one included shore excursion in every port of call
  • – access to top-rated spa
  • – beer, wine and soft drinks with onboard dinner and lunch
  • – port taxes and fees
  • – restaurant dining
  • – 24 hour room service
  • – self-service laundry

See more of our posts on Viking: 

Call our agents at Willamette Intl Travel to find out more about the itineraries Viking Cruises offers in 2017. We can share our expertise and advise if Viking is right for you. Call 503-224-0180 to chat. 

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Filed under Europe, Travel by Ship, Viking Cruises, Where in the World is the WIT Agent?

Travel News: October is National Cruise Month!

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October is the National Cruise Month!

October is National Cruise Month, with loads of opportunities to save on your next cruise. Looking for a last-minute romantic getaway? Want to take the kids on a fun sail-a-way? Cruises are hassle-free, relaxing, diverse way to see many places and do many activities in a short span of time. This month, most major cruise lines are offering major discounts and/or added benefits if booked and deposit paid the month of October. Over 5,000 cruise lines and travel agencies are participating! Our agents at Willamette Intl Travel can answer all your questions and help find a cruise that’s right for you and your loved ones. So what are you waiting for? Give us a call: 503-224-0180 or email info@wittravel.com.

Snapshots from National Cruise Month

  • Professional racer Dale Earnhardt Jr. will make an appearance on the first official Nascar-themed Cruise, with Norwegian.
  • Disney Cruise Line Taps Broadway Talent for Frozen the Musical.
  • Lip Sync Battle coming to Carnival cruise ships.
  • Norwegian Cruise Lines Turning 50 with Special Anniversary Cruises!
  • PLUS: This new super yacht looks like a UFO on the water

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Latest Reports on Hurricane Matthew from Friday

At 500 am this morning Matthew is about 40 miles east southeast of Cape Canaveral or about 90 miles southeast of Daytona Beach. Maximum sustained winds are 120 mph and the storm is moving north northwest at 13 mph. Minimum central pressure is 938 mb. A turn toward the north is expected tonight or Saturday. On the forecast track, the center of Matthew will be moving near or over the east coast of the Florida peninsula through tonight, and near or over the coasts of Georgia and South Carolina on Saturday.Matthew is a category 3 hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale. Although weakening is forecast during the next 48 hours, Matthew is expected to be a category 3 hurricane as it moves near the coast of Florida today. Hurricane-force winds extend outward up to 60 miles (95 km) from the center, and tropical-storm-force winds extend outward up to 185 miles.

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Tourism in Argentina Expected To Increase Thanks To A New VAT Refund

With a view of boosting tourism in Argentina and revitalizing the local hospitality sector, the government presented the official plan for a VAT refund on accommodation services for tourists coming from overseas. Under the new system, foreigners will pay a lower fee for accommodation services in the country. In other words, through this reform, the cost of renting a hotel room in Argentina will be cheaper for visitors. The refund will be automatic and will be given directly to the card that pays for the services and, according to official information, the measure will cover the entire supply chain of the hospitality sector.

IcelandAir To Offer Nonstop Service To Reykjavik From Tampa

IcelandAir will offer nonstop service to Reykjavik from Tampa International Airport beginning Sept. 7, 2017. Reykjavik is Iceland’s city and capital. The service will be twice a week. This will be the fourth international carrier in its growing lineup of carriers. The IcelandAir announcement comes on the heels of the one-year anniversary of Lufthansa’s nonstop flight to and from Frankfurt at Tampa International Airport, which began last September. IcelandAir offers flights to 39 cities in 16 countries, including 18 destinations in the United States. The new flight to Tampa will be the carrier’s second to Florida. IcelandAir also offers service to Orlando International Airport. IcelandAir is known for its stopover program, which encourages travelers from Europe or North America to “stop over” in Iceland on transatlantic flights for up to seven nights at no additional cost. The carrier’s main hub is at Keflavik International Airport, where it offers connections to dozens of destinations around the world.

LOT To Launch Los Angeles Flights

Polish airline LOT will connect Warsaw with the US West Coast from April, 2017. Although as yet there has been no official announcement, Business Traveller can reveal that Warsaw-based LOT will launch a four times a week non-stop service between Warsaw and Los Angeles on April 4. The flight will be operated by a three-class B787 configured for business, premium economy and economy. LOT would appear to be following in the footsteps of Vienna-based Austrian Airlines who recently announced that it too would launch flights to the US West Coast this coming April. Austrian Airlines will be providing the only non-stop link between Central Europe and Los Angeles while LOT will operate the only non-stop link to the US West Coast)from a city in the former Eastern Europe. Flight time is 12 hours, 20 mins for Warsaw-Los Angeles and 11 hours, 20 mins for Los Angeles-Warsaw.

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KLM Runs Pilot Project With Artificial Intelligence
KLM Royal Dutch Airlines is taking the next step in social servicing by testing artificial intelligence (AI) to help answer customer questions. When an agent needs to answer an incoming question, he or she gets a proposed answer through AI, which is trained on more than 60,000 KLM questions and answers. The agent decides whether the proposed answer is the right answer to the question, adjusts it if necessary and sends it across the appropriate social media channel. The system learns based on what the agent does, and becomes smarter in real time. KLM receives around 100,000 mentions per week via social media and this number is still growing. A dedicated team of 235 social media service agents personally engages in 15,000 conversations. The DigitalGenius AI system is integrated directly into KLM’s Customer Relationship Management tool, and provides a layer of deep learning and artificial intelligence to service agents in real time.

Holland America Bans Smoking On All Its Cruise Ship Balconies
Beginning January 2017, Holland America cruise line will ban smoking on all cabin balconies. No smoking of any kind will be permitted on any stateroom verandah. A “smoking of cigarettes, cigars and pipes is already not permitted in any stateroom. The new policy has been announced to better align with guest wishes and health concerns.” Holland America is the last major U.S. cruise line to enact the smoking ban; the most recent line to do so was Norwegian Cruise Line in November 2014. Royal Caribbean announced its smoking ban three years ago, followed by Carnival Cruise Line in July 2014. Holland America’s no-smoking-on-balconies ban will roll out fleetwide over five months on a staggered schedule.

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Filed under Argentina, Celebrity Cruises, Cruises, Crystal Cruises, Disney Cruises, News, Oceania Cruises, Princess Cruises, Un-Cruise, UniWorld, Viking Cruises, Windstar Cruises

Client Report: Viking Ocean’s Star in the Mediterranean

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Our agents at Willamette Intl Travel booked a cruise with Viking Ocean for long-time client Nancy T. Now Nancy’s come back from her amazing trip through the Mediterranean. Hear what she has to say about the voyage:

How was the Ship?

The Viking Star is absolutely stunning. It is very well thought out. Even though there were over 900 people on the ship, you never felt crowded. Our room was quite large and the bathroom was exceptional – full size shower and heated floor! The food was amazing. We loved the sauna and snow grotto room. Because we took an extensive excursion every day, we really didn’t have time to try out all the amenities on the ship. You could spend your entire trip onboard! There are so many beautiful places on the ship.

You did the pre-cruise extension, Two Nights in Istanbul, with Viking. How was the hotel?

Istanbul was beautiful. A side note to Viking—the Conrad hotel is not well placed for visitors. I know Viking will be getting a lot of feedback regarding that. It’s a beautiful hotel but not situated well for those wanting to explore Istanbul. Lots of business people and conferences being held there. It’s  a 30 – 40 minute walk to the nearest transit station and then another 20 minute ride to the old section. Taxis from the hotel to the old section are expensive because of where the hotel is placed and all the traffic.

(Note from Wittravel: The Conrad is a superb hotel, but indeed may be suitable for those travelers who wish to relax before their voyage. For those who want quicker access to the sights and smells of Istanbul, we can arrange nights in many excellent hotels closer to the city center. Call us for a one-on-one consultation.) 

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Tell us about the Excursions — how was Istanbul?

We did the guided tour provided by Viking on the first day – well thought out. The second day, we walked and took the light rail to see the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia. Also went to a small bazar. The next day was spent entirely at The Topkapi Palace which is huge. We were too tired to get to the Grand Bazaar or go to the recommended spice market. It was good we had done the smaller bazaar since it had spice stores there.

We did see some of the Syrian refugees. It broke our hearts. Turkey is trying hard to deal with them compassionately but their patience is running out. There are already over 2 million refugees and a million more are expected. I have a greater regard for Turkey and its place in our world.

We loved all the other, added-on excursions we did. I fell in love with Montenegro. Our excursion was 5 hours that day. Santorini was amazing – that was an 8-hour day. Athens was a 6-hour tour. Kusadasi ( Ephesus) was a 3.5-tour.

Final Thoughts?

It was an amazing, exciting trip. I highly recommend it to anyone wanting to explore that part of the world. Another side note – the majority of passengers on the ship had already on it for ten days before we got on it. They had combined this trip with another one which started in Barcelona.

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Viking Cruises launched its first ocean-going itinerary in May of this year. Ocean voyages have been fully booked up well into 2016! Viking’s world-renown cruise line has ranked highly on multiple travel lists, including Conde Nast Traveler’s Gold List, Travel + Leisure World’s List, Travel Weekly Readers’ Choice Awards, and National Geographic’s The 10 Best of Everything. The ocean cruises continue the Viking tradition of an all-inclusive experience, from all onboard meals, cultural enrichment, complimentary room service, to shore excursions, wifi, self-service laundry, wine, beer & soft drinks, and all port charges and government taxes.

The Viking Star is an all-veranda ship that accommodates up to 928 passengers. Combining Viking world-class standards with refreshing itineraries, the Viking Star is the ultimate luxury voyage that enhances each destination port. From the lavish 270-square-foot veranda to the premium Owner’s Suite spanning a whopping 1448 square feet, there’s something for everyone on the Star. She will be equipped with multiple restaurants, serene Wintergarden lanai, Piano Bar, Explorer’s Lounge, and a Nordic Spa. The Star will also have as its token jewel an Infinity Pool that is cantilevered over the ocean—the only one of its kind among cruise ships worldwide.

Call us for more information on Viking and their ocean and river itineraries. Contact 503-224-0180 or email info@wittravel.com.

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Filed under Cruises, Europe, Travel by Ship, Viking Cruises

Viking River Cruises: Exclusive Offer

Last week, Willamette Intl Travel office hosted a lovely evening with Viking River Cruises. We were so pumped by our partnership that we’ve once again teamed up with Viking for an exclusive offer!

Call us and book a cabin on a Viking ship and receive $100 per cabin onboard credit!

This offer expires Thursday, April 30. So be sure to call your WIT agent for more details or to confirm your space on a sailing. 503-224-0180 or email info@wittravel.com. 

Calling to inquire about Russia? Last August our agent Nancy went on Viking’s Waterways of the Tsars (read about it here). Call her up for a chat about this unique and colorful country. Russia bookings can be cancelled for any reason up to date of departure, and any payments made will be reimbursed in the form of future credit with Viking.

Viking offers many excellent cruises all over the world on dozens of rivers in Europe and Asia. Cruise down the scenic Saone and Rhone rivers in France for a taste of wine country and lavender-strewn Provence. A few years ago, our agent Pam sailed with Viking on the Yangtze River. (Read more about her journey here.) Join their 13-day sailing and explore bustling Shanghai, historical Xian, and the beautiful Three Gorges. Looking for a unique destination? Viking even sails through Myanmar along the verdant Irrawaddy River. Visit this timeless country and its waterside villages, ornate pagodas, and iridescent Inle Lake.

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Filed under Cruises, SALES, Travel by Ship, Viking Cruises

Where in the World is the WIT Agent? – Viking Cruises, Russia

WIT Agent Nancy Fowler is currently escorting a group of 70+ passengers on a Viking River Cruise through Russia! From August 24 to Sept 5, Viking’s ship Helgi sails from Moscow to St. Petersburg on the Volga-Baltic Waterway.

Nancy will return next week with some firsthand feedback, but in the meantime here are some of the highlights they will experience on their journey (excerpts from VRC’s At a Glance):

Creative Commons (c) Adam Jones

Creative Commons (c) Adam Jones

The World’s Largest Art Museum

Over the span of 250 years, the collection of the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russi has grown to over 3 million items including works from noted artists such as da Vinci, Michelangelo, Matisse, Rubens, Cezanne, van Gogh and Picasso. These treasures are housed along the embankment of the Neva River, in the heart of St. Petersburg. The highlight in this architectural ensemble is the Winter Palace, former residence of Russian Tsars including Catherine the Great.

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Kizhi, Creative Commons (c) ninara

An Architectural Feat

On the island village of Kizhi, walk through the Open Air Museum of Architecture. Kizhi contains ancient wooden houses, windmills and churches, the most stunning of which is the three-tiered Preobranzhenskaya (Transfiguration) Church. This fairytale structure was built in 1714 without the use of a single nail.

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Kremlin, Creative Commons (c) flowcomm

The Heart of Moscow

In Russian, the word kremlin refers to any major fortified complex. But in Moscow there is one very special Kremlin, adjacent to the Red Square. Inside its crenellated red brick walls are four palaces and an array of churches and monasteries—as well as one enormous bell. The Kremlin also serves as the official residence of Russia’s President.

Creative Commons (c) Dennis Jarvis

Amber Room, Creative Commons (c) Dennis Jarvis

A Legend Restored

Constructed of amber panels backed with gold leaf and mirrors, the Amber Room was given to Peter the Great by a Prussian King in 1716. Installed at Catherine’s Palace in Pushkin, it was later exnteded to cover nearly 600 square feet with over six tons of amber. During WWII, German soldiers disassembled the room and it was never seen again. In 2003, a painstaking reconstruction was completed, enabling visitors to once again enjoy its brilliance.

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Pirozhki, Creative Commons (c) malan10

Russian Specialties

A large country, Russia has quite a varied cuisine—but some things everyone loves. A staple of the Russian diet is pirozhki, small pastries stuffed with fish, meat, eggs, potatoes, cabbage or mushrooms and either baked or quick-fried. Another traditional dish is blini, thin crepe-like pancakes served with butter, sour cream, fruit preserves and/or caviar. Vikings’ guests will taste these local delicacies on board.

Willamette Intl Travel has years of expertise with river cruises in Europe and Asia. Our agents are well versed with Viking and many other cruise lines. Please call us for more information.

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Filed under Cruises, Europe, Our Travel Agents, Russia, Travel by Ship, Viking Cruises, Where in the World is the WIT Agent?