Viva Two: Diverse Fun “On the River”

“Five Years of Viva Cruises” marks the anniversary that the Düsseldorf-based company celebrates this year. Launched in 2018, Viva Cruises is supported by the Swiss navigation company Scylla – formerly known as Scylla Tours, which is also celebrating a “big birthday” in 2023: the company was founded 50 years ago by the Dutch Reitsma family in Basel. For a long time, Scylla didn’t offer cruises, but leased its 40 ships to tour operators worldwide. Notable brands utilizing Scylla’s ships include Phoenix Reisen and Nicko cruises in the German market, while internationally, Tauck in the United States and the British cruise specialist Riviera River Cruises.

After Viva Cruises began in 2018 to market Scylla’s ships outside of their own charter trips, the start of the 2020 season was met with a setback due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Viva Cruises reacted swiftly and introduced an effective hygiene protocol that allowed for short trips in Germany and on the Danube from the end of June 2020.

Viva Tiara was the company’s first owned ship, sailing exclusively under the Viva flag. In 2021, a second ship, only a few years old, was added. Originally, Viva One was also supposed to be put into operation in the same year. The decision to delay its launch and instead utilize the available ships turned out to be correct, especially considering the challenges of completing new construction projects during a pandemic. The second new build, Viva Two, was eventually completed in the following year and set sail for its inaugural voyage in March 2023, rather than the initially planned July 2022. With Thomas Hardy, part of the Scylla fleet, the planned voyages for 2022 were still carried out.

Viva Two’s hull was built at the Vahali Zasavica shipyards in Serbia and was transported to the Netherlands between April and May 2022 through the Sava, Danube, Main-Danube Canal, and Rhine for final outfitting. On March 23, 2023, the ship’s christening ceremony took place at Viva Cruises headquarters in Düsseldorf. The godmother was Shiri Gordon, co-owner of the Gordon Travel Group based in Tel Aviv, whose cruise division, Gordon Cruise, regularly brings groups of Israeli travelers aboard Viva Cruises ships. From the outset, Viva has been open to an international audience. German and English are the onboard languages, and menus, daily programs, announcements, etc., are substantially bilingual.

With a length of 442.91 feet and a width of 37.56 feet, the new vessel accommodates 190 passengers. Unlike Viva One, Viva Two features three continuous passenger decks. Only the bar area at the front of the bow is positioned halfway between the middle and upper decks (Ruby Deck and Diamond Deck). Consequently, the ship’s galley is located below between the lower and middle decks (Emerald Deck and Ruby Deck). On Viva One, there’s a deck jump between three cabin decks and two decks with public areas (restaurant and lounge) on the level of the lobby. This allows for designing a slightly lower outdoor area with lounge furniture in front of the helm, which in many cases can remain open when passing under low bridges. However, this is not the case for Viva Two, where the helm is located much further forward.

Nevertheless, the different deck layout lends a very open and bright appearance to the public areas, and the ship also features three restaurants. Inside, the prevailing tones are blue, gray, and earthy, in line with the current zeitgeist. The design is maritime, though not necessarily warm. The light tones of the wood blend well into the overall picture.

The two-story lobby hosts a small onboard shop on the lower level, in addition to the reception and tour guide counter. All cabin decks, but not the sun deck, are accessible via an elevator. However, the staircases to the Diamond and Emerald decks are quite steep and narrow. In the foyer gallery, there’s a drinking water station for refilling bottles and a coffee machine that can be used free of charge at any time.

At the front, on the Diamond deck, the panoramic lounge is located. It offers seating with comfortable chairs and sofas, as well as high and cocktail tables. From the deck below, the bow bar area is accessed via a wide staircase that continues down to the Riverside restaurant beneath the lounge. The gap between the restaurant level and the lounge level creates an unusual feeling of space on the river, but it also takes up some space, especially in the Panorama Salon. While music softly plays here at different times of the day, the front bar area is much quieter, with a broad view of the bow, where there’s an outdoor terrace that can be used even when temperatures are low, thanks to heaters. This area is also frequently visited by smokers. By the way, smoking is strictly prohibited inside the ship, and there are only ashtrays on the deck on certain tables, which should stay there. Smoking areas are thus limited to a few outdoor spots, in line with the idea of protecting non-smokers.

From the bow terrace, the sun deck is accessed via long but easily accessible stairs. On the sun deck, which extends for almost the entire length of the ship, there are lounge areas with outdoor chairs, loungers, and sunbeds. There are also shaded areas. There’s a small pool near the stern. Here, stairs lead to another small outdoor terrace that encloses Viva’s Bistro on three sides. Viva Cruises deserves special praise for the integrated deck lighting in the railing underneath. There are no glaring lights that disturb evening walks on the deck; instead, it’s optimally illuminated.

The clever lighting concept, which integrates both direct and indirect light, is also prominently evident in the naturally windowless cabin corridors. This continues in the approximately 15 m² cabins – from the indirect “nightlight” in the bathroom to the lit lockers, which are illuminated by LEDs. Overall, the cabins are modern and fresh. Particularly noteworthy are the beds with high-quality mattresses. The large drawers and adequately sized wardrobe provide plenty of storage space. It’s a pity that there’s only enough space for one armchair. There are ample outlets for chargers, cell phones, and the like, and there are also USB charging ports near the bed. The minibar is restocked daily and is included in the cruise price as part of Viva Cruises’ “All Inclusive” concept, as is the use of the Nespresso machine. Cabin amenities also include a clock with Bluetooth speaker function and the option of wireless charging for compatible cell phones, individually adjustable air conditioning, a hairdryer, and a safe. In the bathroom, quite spacious for a river ship, the beautiful shower stands out. In addition to a handheld showerhead, it also features a ceiling rain shower, both individually controllable via the thermostat with a simple push of a button. As customary with Viva Cruises, the care products come from the well-known Rituals brand.

Regarding the culinary experience, Viva Two offers a variety of options that few other river ships can match. In the Riverside restaurant, all meals are served at the table with open seating. In the morning, a rich buffet is available, and egg dishes and porridge are also served at the table. For lunch and dinner, high-quality multi-course menus are served, different every day. Below the Riverside, the Moments restaurant does not offer river views through large windows, but it’s an excellent alternative for breakfast to the main restaurant, which is usually much busier.

The Moments exudes the atmosphere of a refined bistro. At lunchtime, freshly prepared Mediterranean dishes from a fixed menu are available. These include a plate with Spanish and French sausage and cheese specialties, beef tartare, and lasagna – but also an excellent Mediterranean-inspired hamburger in focaccia with arugula and mozzarella. In the evening, almost every day, a gourmet dinner with wine pairing is served. This requires a reservation but is included in the price. The Viva’s Bistro at the back is also open for lunch and dinner. Fish and seafood are always present on the menu. At lunch, you’ll find rustic dishes with various fish rolls and shrimp, baked squid rings, and fish & chips, while in the evening, there are Finkenwerder-style plaice, tuna steak, and lobster bisque. No reservation is required for the bistro. All meals in the three restaurants are always included in the travel price, and all three are excellent.

However, Moments and Viva’s Bistro haven’t been well presented. The “advertisement” for these alternative dining spots onboard could certainly be more accentuated. They weren’t even mentioned at the onboard event at the beginning of the journey. Also noteworthy, especially with Viva’s Bistro, is that a pure “fish restaurant” won’t naturally convince all travelers. While it’s nice from a passenger perspective to be the only guests at the restaurant, this isn’t in the interest of Viva Cruises. A gala dinner is also scheduled onboard, but in line with Viva’s concept, you can leave your formal attire at home!

If you want to shed the pounds gained from the excellent cuisine, you’ll find a small fitness room on the Emerald Deck and a small wellness oasis with a sauna and steam bath right across. There’s also a massage room, and a wellness therapist is onboard for each journey. Alongside shore excursions and a very few exclusive beverages, this is one of the few optional services not covered by the all-inclusive plan but must be paid for separately. The prices for various massage offerings are reasonable.

Like Viva One, Viva Two also features solar panels on the deck to cover at least a small part of the onboard energy requirement. Liquid gas fuel is used for propulsion. These are liquid hydrocarbons produced from natural gas processing. They burn more efficiently and, compared to petroleum-based fuels, practically release no soot particles, sulfur dioxide, and nitrogen oxides.

“Enjoy the moment” is Viva Cruises‘ motto, and the young company is visibly trying to help modernize the image of river cruising, which is still much behind ocean travel. At the same time, however, they must continue to cater to the interests of the best agers, who still make up the majority of passengers in this travel segment. A certain balance is inevitable. Some innovative concepts, like the offering in VIVA TWO’s two alternative restaurants, will probably undergo changes to increase popularity, especially among this older clientele. Viva Cruises and their new flagship offer a top-class product that combines modern and comfortable cabins, excellent and friendly service, and great cuisine. Alongside popular “standard destinations” on the Rhine and Danube, the program also includes alternative routes and less frequented destinations.

After its first season on the Danube, Viva Two will open the 2024 season with short trips to the Netherlands and Belgium – and this already in January! Viva Cruises has also opened up new horizons with this extension of the typical river cruise season, which usually ends at the latest with the New Year’s cruise and starts again no earlier than mid-March. In the spring of 2024, Viva Two will return to the Danube, where, in addition to one-week cruises, selected trips to the Iron Gate and the Danube Delta are planned.

Stay updated with Viva Cruises’ news, updates, and reviews on Cruising Journal, featuring photos, videos, and discounted cruises.

Raoul Fiebig