If you're a savvy traveler, you probably know about Viking Cruises.

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If you're a savvy traveler, you probably know about Viking Cruises.

The cruise line provides luxurious river and ocean cruises, with "luxurious" being the key word; while most people think of a cruise vacation as a by-the-numbers affair, Viking has redefined guest expectations by providing a carefully cultivated all-inclusive experience.

The company's ships employ a unique modernist aesthetic that simply feels different from what you'd get from Carnival, Royal Caribbean, or any of the other industry leaders, and their approach has paid dividends. When you’re sitting in the Explorers' Lounge perusing vintage maps or enjoying a thermal bath on the spa deck, you’ll know why Viking Cruises are held in such high regard.

Of course, the ships' features might not matter if the routes were boring. Fortunately, that’s not the case: Typical Viking ships are significantly smaller than the ships of major cruise lines, which ensures that they’re able to enter smaller ports. As a result, Viking Cruises offer incredible itineraries with unmatched onboard amenities.

1. You need to think about what “all-inclusive

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1. You need to think about what “all-inclusive" means.

If you’ve cruised before, you know that Viking cruises are...well, expensive. You can expect to pay several thousand dollars for your trip (although rates vary greatly by route and month), which seems costly compared to the $500-600 rates you’d find from other cruise companies.

However, once you’ve paid, you don’t need to spend much more. Your fare includes a shore excursion in each port of call (including all port charges and government taxes), onboard meals with beer and wine, Wi-Fi access, self-service laundry, spa access, and 24-hour room service.

Viking estimates that their amenities are worth about $200, per guest, per day. To get that value, you’ll have to use as many of the onboard services as possible, but it beats constantly taking out your wallet for things like internet access and port fees.

And not to hammer home the point, but Viking cruises are truly luxurious. Standard features like heated bathroom floors and high-quality wooden deck furniture really help the cruise line stand out from its competitors (and no, we haven’t received payment from Viking for this piece). With that said, some If you want to enjoy a cocktail outside of lunch or dinner service, you’ll have to pay for the privilege. However...

2. You can avoid overpaying for drinks.

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2. You can avoid overpaying for drinks.

If you’re planning on drinking regularly — no judgments here, we’re talking about a vacation — there are a couple of ways to keep your budget in check.

The most obvious: Pay for the Silver Spirits beverage package, which offers unlimited beers, cocktails, premium wines, juices, espresso drinks, and mineral water for the entire cruise. Prices vary depending on the length of the cruise, but for around $19.95 per night per guest, you’ll never have to worry about what you’re spending.

Is that worth it? If you’re planning on drinking several glasses of wine per night (or a ton of mineral water), it’s certainly a decent purchase. If that doesn’t sound like a great value (or if you’re not planning on paying for enough beverages to justify the surcharge), there’s another option.

“You can also buy local wine and bring it onboard,” a Viking Cruises representative tells TravelAwaits via email. “Each stateroom on Viking Longships and Viking’s ocean ships have a refrigerator, and a corkscrew is also available onboard.”

As with all other aspects of your cruise, the trick is to plan ahead. Make a list of planned expenditures, then do the math to see whether you can justify the Silver Spirits package. If not, you can always grab a few bottles of the good stuff during a shore excursion.

3. Plan for a pre-meal drink.

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3. Plan for a pre-meal drink.

Ocean cruisers won't want to miss out on Torshavn.

"Drawing its name from the capital of the Faroe Islands, Torshavn is a lively music venue inspired by the romantic jazz lounges of 1940s Hollywood, and it's an ideal spot for pre-dinner drinks and after-dinner entertainment," a Viking representative tells us. "This intimate club environment also offers a selection of rare vintage Armagnacs from 1935 through 1965."

“Don’t miss the opportunity to sample these extraordinary, limited-quantity brandies from France’s Armagnac region in Gascony during your sailing.”

Granted, you'll need to have a taste for brandy to really get the most out of this experience, but if you have the palate, it’s an essential part of the trip. If that's not to your interests, you could always relax with a nice afternoon tea.

"Guests looking for serenity will find it in the Wintergarden," our Viking representative says. “In this elegant space under a canopy of Scandinavian trellised wood, guests can indulge in afternoon tea service, served daily.”

4. Consider stateroom options carefully.

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4. Consider stateroom options carefully.

If you’ve got money to burn, you won’t be disappointed by the premium suites on a Viking cruise. That doesn’t necessarily make them a great value.

For example, each river cruise has two 445-sq.-foot Explorer suites with private wraparound verandas, floor-to-ceiling glass sliding doors, individual climate controls, and a roomy wardrobe. Veranda suites are smaller (275 square feet), but feature large private bathrooms, climate controls, 40-inch flat-panel TVs, and various other amenities. Ocean cruises have similar options, though exact room sizes and features will vary.

However, if you’re looking to save money, think about whether you’ll actually spend much time in your suite. If you’re an active person (or if you’re planning to adopt a slightly more active lifestyle during a two- or three-week cruise), a less expensive stateroom could save you a tremendous amount of money.

Standard staterooms are much less expensive, and while they’re not exactly roomy, that doesn’t matter if you’re just using them as a sort of home base. You won’t have much of a view, but you’ll still get the 24/7 room service, and if you’re feeling claustrophobic, you can always head to a different part of the ship.

5. Get your timing right.

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5. Get your timing right.

When booking your cruise, you'll have an easier time finding staterooms during certain months of the year. For the best possible time, you'll want to be flexible.

"Guests sailing the rivers in December can experience the traditional European Christmas markets and see the cities in a new way while enjoying local holiday treats and hot mulled wine," our source notes.

If you’re taking a river cruise, do a bit of research on the cities you’ll be visiting. Find out what’s happening, then plan your itinerary appropriately. An easy approach is to sign up for the Viking Weekly, an online newsletter with recommendations, itinerary spotlights, videos, and more. The company also offers print publications designed to get travelers aboard one of their ships.

With ocean cruise, timing is less of an issue, but you’ll still want to plan as far in advance as is possible. Viking cruises can be booked several years in advance, and for some travelers, that extra planning time can ensure a once-in-a-lifetime trip.

6. Know what you’re paying.

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6. Know what you’re paying.

As we mentioned earlier, Viking cruises aren’t cheap, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t travel frugally.

Viking River Cruises offer a 3.3 percent discount for travelers who pay via e-check, so if you’re looking for a way to reduce your expenses, that’s a great place to start. You should also research tipping policies for your vessel; while tips are voluntary for both ocean and river cruises, Viking ocean cruises have a discretionary hotel and dining charge of $15.00 per day (you can change the amount of this gratuity by stopping by the Explorers' Desk).

For river cruises, tipping recommendations vary depending on your location. The Viking River Cruises website contains gratuity recommendations for various cruises, along with currency recommendations.

While you’ll want to show your gratitude to the ship’s staff, you’ll want to know what you’re paying, particularly if you’re traveling on a ship that doesn’t use your typical currency. Planning in advance should help you avoid a costly mistake (or embarrassing faux pas).

7. You’ll need to use your phone.

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7. You’ll need to use your phone.

Part of the fun of a cruise is getting away from the stresses of your everyday life, and for many of us, that means turning off the smartphone for a while. However, Viking offers a few apps to make your cruise more enjoyable, and if you don’t install them, you’ll miss out.

“The Viking Art Guide (available for free in the App Store and Google Play) offers a self-guided audio tour of the artwork throughout the public spaces of the [ocean] ships, with insightful commentary from your host, Viking’s Senior Vice President Karine Hagen, as well as a variety of curators and experts,” our source says.

Another essential download is the Viking Voyager app, which lets you see daily events, plan your cruise program, and book shore excursions, spa appointments, and dinner reservations. Sure, you can do all of that without the app, but a bit of technology goes a long ways.

As one of the app’s reviewers puts it: “This app is an essential tool for getting the most out of your cruise.”

8. Take advantage of all of the dining rooms.

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8. Take advantage of all of the dining rooms.

On a Viking cruise, diners can visit any restaurant without incurring any additional charge. Many travelers play it safe, sticking with contemporary American fare at the buffet, but our Viking source strongly recommended exploring all of the ships' culinary options.

A simple place to start: Mamsen’s, a chic deli located on every Viking ocean cruise ship.

“Located in the Explorer’s Lounge, Mamsen’s serves traditional Scandinavian fare inspired by Ragnhild Hagen – Viking Chairman Torstein Hagen’s mother, or ‘Mamsen,’ as she was known to the family,” our source wrote. “The deli, named in her honor, serves cuisine inspired by her kitchen, from sweet rolls with cloudberry jam, salmon gravlax, open-faced sandwiches to her heart-shaped waffles served with jam or gjetost and Norwegian brown goat cheese.”

You’ll also want to check out Manfredi’s Italian Restaurant and The Chef’s Table, the cruise line’s premium restaurants. Some suites come with a guaranteed reservation, but if you’re grabbing a stateroom, try to visit the restaurants early in your voyage.

And if you enjoy your experience at one of those premium restaurants, feel free to head back later in the trip — at The Chef’s Table, the menu changes every three days.

9. Tour the bridge and the galley.

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9. Tour the bridge and the galley.

If you’re on an ocean cruise, you can actually take a tour of the bridge and galley, but you’ll need to act quickly in order to get a spot.

“At least once during your sailing, the ship will offer behind-the-scenes tours of the bridge, where the captain and crew manage the direction and speed of the ship, and the galley, the kitchen,” a Viking representative says.

“These are limited capacity and can only be booked once onboard, so talk to the guest services team once you arrive and watch your Viking Daily newsletter to make sure you can secure your spot.”

That might not interest every traveler, but if you’re interested in the inner workings of a major cruise vessel, it’s well worth the time.

10. On a river cruise, get off the boat.

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10. On a river cruise, get off the boat.

Given the luxurious nature of the Viking vessels, it’s easy to understand why a traveler would want to stay on the boat. That’s fine if you’re on an ocean cruise, but for river cruises, make sure you’re taking advantage of the local culture.

“Sailing down rivers puts you in the heart of many of the cities you visit,” our source tells us. “During each port of call, guests can explore the destinations with a short walk from their ship’s dock. Plus, the ships sail smoothly down Europe’s waterways, meaning, no waves for those who get seasick.”

This is where a carefully planned travel itinerary can really elevate your trip. Of course, if you miss a stop, you can still enjoy the cities: Viking’s Culture Curriculum program provides onboard performances and lectures from artists, musicians, and historians, along with “authentic culinary demonstrations.”

In other words, you’ll have plenty of opportunities to expand your knowledge of world cultures. Just make sure to make an effort!

11. Don’t overpack.

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11. Don’t overpack.

Remember, Viking cruises provide pretty much everything you need for a great vacation. The worst thing you can do is clutter up your quarters with unnecessary items.

Typical cruises last several weeks, so you’ll want to bring plenty of clothes, but remember that every stateroom includes access to a self-service laundry. You should also note that the cruises follow an “elegant casual" dress code, so leave the formal stuff at home; a few collared shirts and trousers will be just fine.

Most rooms are also equipped with hair dryers, so while you might want to bring other electric products — hair straighteners and curlers, for instance — leave the dryer behind.

And even if you’re extremely particular about your shampoo, you don’t need to bring any onboard. Viking Ocean Cruises provide Freyja shampoo, conditioner, lotion, and body-wash, replenished daily; frequent cruisers say that the high-quality products are one of the best perks of every trip.

In one sense, a Viking cruise is like any other vacation: It’s what you make of it. In every other sense, though, it’s unmatched, especially when compared with cruises from other major companies. Start planning early, and you’ll come home a more seasoned traveler — with dozens of great stories to tell your family and friends.

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