MARCO ISLAND — If time and space could be transformed, guests of “Oktoberfest in February” could have been seated in the dining room of a riverboat exploring the German Rhine.
The transformation Thursday of Marco Island Yacht Club’s upstairs to a pleasure craft had the signatures of Jill and Ewout de Vries and the staff of America Travel. Steins of imported beer never fell empty. Marc-Allen Barker of Viking River Cruises roamed among diners in traditional lederhosen.
The yacht club’s dining staff complemented the occasion with a buffet even the Deutsche would envy: Bratwurst and knockwurst with sauerkraut, veal shanks, hasenpfeffer (German rabbit stew), spaetzle, hot German potato salad, and abundant pastries and cake.
The evening’s crowning event for its 126 dinner guests was a vicarious trip to foreign lands via the magic of screen. Diners were visually transported to prestigious destinations by the largest riverboat company of its kind on the globe.
“Our cruisers spend more time at their destination and less times aboard ship,” said Darren Dolan, director of business development for Viking River Cruises. “That’s because we take you to the heart of a country rather than skimming its coast.”
Riverboat travel varies from ocean line cruising in remarkable ways. River vessels meander through scenic countryside rather than steaming long distances between destinations. Onshore, the group of fewer than 200 passengers blends into towns and hamlets without interrupting the daily flow of local inhabitants.
Most excursions are included in the cost of the trip, so small groups can explore regions of interest; and in some cases, meet the boat downstream rather than trudge back to the same dockage. All passengers are seated for dinner at 7 p.m., but dress is always casual.
“I tell guests to leave their tuxedos at home,” Dolan said. “We want them to be comfortably immersed in the destination’s culture.”
Local color is never far away. Viking brings town musicians and cultural activities onboard in the evenings for guests’ entertainment. One of Dolan’s favorite venues is sailing through the Wachau Valley on the Danube River.
“The chef prepares local dishes and we bring kegs of local beer and locally produced schnapps onboard,” Dolan said. “We also hire accordion players as you sail down the Danube surrounded by castles and vineyards.”
Dolan praised America Travel for its spot as their No. 1 seller of riverboat cruises. De Vries admitted that he has traveled on every riverboat itinerary.
Viking will be christening four state-of-the-art ships in Amsterdam next month.
“The new ships will be different,” said de Vries. “The corridor will be moved slightly to one side allowing larger cabins with balconies. Suites will have two rooms, a living room and bedroom with French balconies and an extra veranda.”
A special suite at the back of the ship allows a 270-degree view of the countryside.
For those who enjoy exotic travel, de Vries will be escorting a trip to the
Mekong Delta in southwestern Vietnam in October and has four cabins remaining.
Viking sails primarily in Europe on the main rivers of France, Russia, Germany, Austria and Portugal. In Asia, Viking sails in China, Vietnam and Korea. Bookings are generally open for travel from March to December. The company will have 27 riverboats in service by the end of the year.
Riverboat cruises are typically 8-23 days. An 8-day sailing would take visitors to four countries while a 23-day trip could reach as many as nine. Two popular destinations are the 8-day gastronome sailing through the south of France and a northern France trip that includes the beaches of Normandy, Dolan said.
For more information on Viking River Cruises or for reservations, call America Travel at (239) 642-6616.