So here is my review of our long anticipated “Romantic Danube” trip.
The Pre & Post Extensions
We booked the Pre and Post extensions that Viking offered in Prague and Budapest. I’m glad we had a chance to spend time in both these cities.
Viking staff met us and several other couples at the Prague Airport and promptly took us to the Prague Hilton. We like Hilton Hotels and have stayed in a number of them over the years. The Prague Hilton is a large meeting/convention hotel. Some would say that the location is not ideal, being a little askew of the main city center, but I liked the location as it gave us easy access to the Café Imperial (wonderful Art Nouveau restaurant), and the Pivovorsky Klub, one of the best places in Prague to drink beer.
Try to avoid eating at the Prague Hilton – very expensive. Upon arrival we had 2 cappuccinos ($12 ea.), a small pizza and a piece of cake for a total bill of about $50.
The included Prague tour was excellent and covered the Prague Castle, a walk across the Charles Bridge, and a tour of the Old Town area including the Jewish Quarter. We left the tour at its conclusion in the Jewish Quarter and bought tickets to tour the Jewish Museum which was really worthwhile.
The Budapest Hilton is very well situated in the Buda Castle area. We were transported there in the morning of our final cruise day. They had a room ready for us upon our arrival with an excellent view of Buda, Pest and the Hungarian Parliament. The Castle District is very charming with lots of nice restaurants and museums, but is away from the main part of the city on the Pest side which we had already toured the very last day on the ship.
We had no trouble filling our time during the 2 days we stayed in this hotel. All in all we spent three days in Budapest (1 on the ship and 2 at the Hilton) and I feel we did not even get to scratch the surface of Budapest. The Hungarian National Gallery in the Buda Castle was excellent.
On our final morning we were transported to the Budapest airport. A Viking representative met us at the airport and stayed with us until our luggage was checked and we had boarding passes in hand.
One of the things that attracted me to Viking was the nice, clean modern look to the Longships. Uniworld ships seemed too gaudy, and Viking seemed to strike the right note with their décor. In actuality, the Viking Idun was bit too plain for my taste.
There was nothing really elegant about the ship, nothing you could point to as a centerpiece in design. The stairway in the reception area maybe – but even that was still not overly exhilarating.
Obviously, this is very subjective, but in my opinion it was a little too much like a Ramada Inn – a bit more style would help. The ship overall was designed well for functionality and I very much liked our cabin, which I will discuss in a section below.
As has been mentioned before, there are not enough seats in the lounge for everyone for the daily briefings so some people need to stand.
Let me start off by saying that every single member of the crew that I had contact with was courteous, friendly and acted with the utmost of professionalism.
My wife fell in love with our cabin stewardess Sandra, and really hit it off with the Executive Chef who shared some of his recipes with her. My wife is an outstanding amateur chef and he readily recognized her expertise in this area. They talked quite a bit. She volunteered for the Apple strudel demonstration in the lounge and confidently assisted the ship’s pastry chef in its preparation. From that moment forward she was known to all as “The Strudel Lady”.
I gave a gratuity to the 2 bartenders, Daniel and Tomas at the beginning of our cruise, so I was not surprised that we seemed to receive special attention whenever we were in the lounge (which was the point of my action).
The Program Director Mario Z. was more than outstanding. He worked tirelessly from morning to late at night and he deserves every penny he makes.
The Captain, was ubiquitous but seemed to speak very little English. None the less he was very charming and always had a smile on his face.
All of the wait staff was very attentive and responded to all requests readily.
The stateroom was of course small, but I knew what to expect when I booked the room. We had a French Balcony style room, and we very much enjoyed the large sliding glass door which we opened on numerous occasions. The room was very nicely appointed and very well laid out. Plenty of storage space, and the bags easily fit under the bed. The shower was what I would consider large for a cabin bathroom.
Viking does need to do something about the pillows on the beds. They are woefully too soft, even if you use 2 of them. Sandra, our stewardess gave us a “decorative” pillow that she put a pillowcase on as a supplement, but it wasn’t really very comfortable.
Upon our arrival we had a very nice surprise of a bottle of sparkling wine with a note that said “From your Viking friends on Cruise Critic”. Let me say “Thank you Viking.”
On the whole the food was good, not 5*, but adequate in my opinion. The breakfast buffets were very good, more than enough to choose from, and everyone seemed to enjoy the omelet station. I really liked the Viking muesli and enjoyed having smoked salmon, and cream cheese on a bagel every morning. The breads and pastries were very good.
We did miss a couple of lunches, choosing to stay in port and eat rather than go back to the ship. A couple of lunches were very good, in particular the Austrian themed lunch we had sailing through the Wachau Valley had some wonderful sausage, bratwurst etc.
The dinners at the beginning of the cruise were just OK, but they seemed to get better as we progressed through the week. There was always a variety (limited) to choose from. The rack of lamb and filet mignon stood out as very good meals.
My wife tells everyone I am a wine connoisseur, well maybe she’s right. I thought we would be served several different wines during the course of the cruise, but had the same red and white wines for all seven nights. The Morwald red wine was a blend of a couple of Austrian grapes that I was not familiar with, and I really did not care for. While I am mostly a red wine lover I switched to the white after a couple of nights which was a bit more palatable. Just about everyone seemed to share the same opinion about the red – it was barely passable.
My one actual disappointment was that we were not served a Thanksgiving turkey meal as promised on the Viking website. Their website says “Cruises sailing from November 1 through November 28 will include a traditional Thanksgiving feast served on board. This celebration of fine food features succulent turkey with caramelized vegetables grown in Germany’s market gardens; clementines poached in red wine from vineyards in Austria’s Wachau Valley; pumpkin pie made with pumpkins grown in northern France; and more!”
When I asked the chef about this he seemed surprised and said that they only serve that meal on cruises that sail during Thanksgiving week.
The Ports, Tours & Guides
In general the ports on the “Romantic Danube” itinerary were good.
Nuremburg is somewhat of an industrial town, not really a beautiful city, but has a very interesting medieval castle where we got out of the bus and had an extensive guided tour. We only did a drive by of the courthouse where the famous trials took place. I thought the N*** Parade grounds were very interesting from a historical point of view. My wife who is originally from Israel said she felt a little uncomfortable being there. I was looking at it strictly from a historical perspective and actually wished it had been a little better preserved.
Regensburg and Passau were beautiful small German towns and the time spent in each was just about right. The Abbey in Melk was outstanding. It is huge, and has the most outrageous Baroque church I have ever seen (not that I’ve seen that many though). For me it was one of the highlights of the trip.
The one day in Vienna is simply not enough. You could easily spend four or five days there without a problem, and as mentioned before, three days (with the extension) spent in Budapest was not enough.
All of the Viking tours were very good and the guides were extremely knowledgeable and pros at what they do. Sometimes I felt they imparted too much information, but I guess they are paid to impart and maybe it was too much for my small brain to absorb at times. Tours left precisely when they were scheduled, and returned pretty much when they were supposed to. This part of the cruise ran like clockwork.
Would we do it again?
River cruising is not an inexpensive way to travel and I believe for a “mid-price” line Viking gives you a good product for the money – although I have no other river cruising experience to compare this to.
Both my wife and I felt there was a little too much regimentation. For our first European vacation we had taken a bus tour several years ago with Insight Tours called “Easy Pace Italy”. We spent 3 nights in four different locations. They took you to your 4* hotel destination, gave you a half day tour (more or less), one dinner with the group, and the rest of the time was your own. So this was the comparison for our only other European experience. We had a lot more time to do things that we wanted to do and at our own pace.
But the format of river cruising, or even ocean cruising for that matter is such that this is not always possible.
Would we do another river cruise? I will need the luxury of time to ponder this question. For now I am enjoying the 140 pictures I got back from Walgreens, and can’t wait to have my friends come over so I can share the pictures and tall tales of faraway places with them.
GCT M/S Provence, April 2017 Carnival Imagination, April 2016 NCL Norwegian Sky, March 2014 Viking Idun, November 2013 Royal Caribbean Voyager of the Seas, April 2004 Royal Caribbean Navigator of the Seas, April 2003 NCL Norwegian Sun, March 2002 Celebrity Cruises Century, August 1999 Admiral Cruise Lines Emerald Seas, July 1988