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Everything Viking "Passage to Eastern Europe" - Budapest to Bucharest


Peregrina651
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We've been on several river cruises with Viking and another with Uniworld, so we have a good general idea of river cruising. We have just come off a 50-day Viking Oceans cruise that had lots of technical glitches (which we expected on a maiden voyage), but horrible shore excursions. Long delays getting started, 50 people groups, very long bus rides to have a few hours at a particular sight, total disorganization at times, so we're suddenly a bit nervous about the Shore Excursions.

 

Did you enjoy the ports and the shore excursions? Anyplace you wish you had arranged private excursions instead of the included Viking excursions? Or wish you had just wandered around on your own? I'm assuming that's pretty impossible in the Romanian extension tours. Was this extension worth it? What else did you see other than Dracula' Castle?

 

We're not worried about the ship itself, as we've been in the same cabin on a different longship and know what we're getting into there. Assuming the food is typical River Cruise food, or was this cruise better or worse?

 

Thanks for any input!

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We've been on several river cruises with Viking and another with Uniworld, so we have a good general idea of river cruising. We have just come off a 50-day Viking Oceans cruise that had lots of technical glitches (which we expected on a maiden voyage), but horrible shore excursions. Long delays getting started, 50 people groups, very long bus rides to have a few hours at a particular sight, total disorganization at times, so we're suddenly a bit nervous about the Shore Excursions.

 

Did you enjoy the ports and the shore excursions? Anyplace you wish you had arranged private excursions instead of the included Viking excursions? Or wish you had just wandered around on your own? I'm assuming that's pretty impossible in the Romanian extension tours. Was this extension worth it? What else did you see other than Dracula' Castle?

 

We're not worried about the ship itself, as we've been in the same cabin on a different longship and know what we're getting into there. Assuming the food is typical River Cruise food, or was this cruise better or worse?

 

Thanks for any input!

 

 

DO NOT be nervous about the shore excursions!! Unlike the the ports of call just starting to be explored by Viking Oceans, "Passage to Eastern Europe" is a well-established itinerary; in 2016, Viking will run the itinerary 37 times between April and November and by the time you arrive in May, they will have already done 10 practice runs and worked out all of the start of the season kinks. The tours in the various ports of call are well-rehearsed at this point and disasters are few and far between.

 

There were local guides in each of the ports of call. The program director and his staff accompanied us on all of the excursions. We are divided into four buses.

 

Personally, I enjoyed all of the tours. There is no place that I would have hired a private guide**; I was happy with the pace and places that Viking chose. We did get a chance to wander around on our own in most--not all--of the ports. The Viking tours were in the morning usually and then back to the ship for lunch. Afternoons, we could wander into the town/cities.

 

We did one optional tour to the Opera House in Belgrade, which we enjoyed. It was a new tour and so a Viking corporate muckety-muck was there to check it out. Later, we had a chance to share a meal --and our comments about the tours and traveling with Viking--with her. I'm sure she went straight back to her room to take notes!

 

We extended in Prague but not Bucharest-and there, it was an issue of time not interest.

 

The food on the ship was fine. I thought that the menus were well planned.

 

Bottom-line: we really enjoyed this itinerary and while I have criticisms here and there about some of the details (like the headsets), it was an overwhelmingly positive experience.

 

**wait, I take that back! If I had known how much I was going to really like Bucharest, I might have considered hiring a private guide to pick us up in the morning at the pier for a private tour of Bucharest. I would have liked to spend more time at the open air museum and check out more of the houses and I would have liked to be able to do both the Parliament Building and the Old Town. On the other hand, at this point in the tour, I had already come down with some sort of bug and I was happy for the slower Viking pace. Better yet, add a day or two in Bucharest so you have time to enjoy the city.

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I understand your concern, but would not worry. We found the excursions included with the tour were enjoyable and, as usual, we did some things on our own. Per Viking norm, there are optional excursions at some ports.

The nature of the terrain does require some bus rides. I can only recall one where the round-trip time may have been greater than the on-site time.

SIDE NOTE: When leaving Hungary, you will be leaving the "Schengen Treaty Area", so all border crossings are enforced. Your passports will have several more stamps when you get them back than they did when you started. Most of this should be transparent to you (your passports are kept at the desk), but you might have one technical border crossing for which you have to be present.

For the Romania extension, the trip to Brasov ("Dracula's" castle) and Siniai (Pele castle) involved a bus ride and overnight. There is lovely scenery once you get into the Carpathians. In Bucharest, the included tour was fun and still left plenty of time to explore on your own. We toured the Peasant Museum (despite the name it is a folk life/history exhibit), walked around Old Town. Also, as we do in nearly every city we visit, found the nearest market area and sampled the local wares. NOTE: We did not take the optional excursion to the Black Sea (Constanta), since it was November and a long bus ride. Of those who did, the results seemed a stark contrast: Either they loved it or hated it.

 

OBSERVATIONS:

1) The Balkans were never treated well by the Soviets. As such, they were less prepared to exit communism than the western countries (e.g., Poland, Czech Republic, Hungary). There is palpable atmosphere about the places.

2) Expect your guides and other personnel to freely discuss their political views. It just seems to be something they do, albeit mostly with humor.

3) Croatia is still recovering from the civil war that broke them away from Yugoslavia. The devastation was more wide-spread than most media reported. Some reviewers have been caustic about this, but it's real.

RECOMMENDATIONS:

1) If there is an optional excursion offered in Croatia to visit some locals in their homes, I recommend taking it. I know these can be hokey, but this is a different animal. The individuals have been compensated by Viking, so there is no awkward tip/gift situation. On our tour, they paired cruisers with locals of different ages and backgrounds. Later, we compared notes on our visits and gained some really interesting insights into their society/culture.

2) As always, I recommend doing some research and finding some things to do in every port where you'll have the time. There is just no substitute for getting out and having fun.

The Tesla museum (Belgrade) was interesting, if you're into that. If you walk there (rather than taxi), you'll get a good exposure to the town the locals experience.

In Budapest, The Hospital in the Rock is cool and there are tons of public baths (think giant hot tub). There is a rather jarring memorial along the Danube (right bank) marking one of the WWII atrocities. Also, a wonderful, large indoor market.

Jeez, I've written a tome! Sorry to ramble on and I hope this info helps with your planning. If you have any questions, please let me know.

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We are considering the Budapest to Bucharest trip. I would like to know if most of the ship tours involve long bus rides to get to the point of interest. Can you be specific as to what stops would involve the bus and how long. I have read there is "a lot of bus time," but nothing specific. We really enjoyed the Rhine and Mosel where you basically just walk off the ship into towns at most stops. Thank you so much for your help.

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It is difficult to ensure an accurate accounting of the bus-intensive ports due to changing itinerary and chance traffic, but here is my best effort.

 

Long-ish bus rides were noticed at the following ports:

 

Rousse, Bulgaria - There are multiple sightseeing stops and and a restaurant stop through the day. You rejoin your ship at a different port (Svistov) so the ride back is not a repeat. Still, this is a full-day outing with multiple bus segments. Unfortunately, since the boat is sailing during the excursion, the only other option is to remain on board.

 

Vidin, Bulgaria - This is a 1/2 day excursion via bus to the Belogradchik Fortress. The ride seemed a bit long, but the destination was worth the effort.

 

Belgrade Serbia - Believe it or not, we spent 1/2 day mostly on the bus in the city! Belgrade is loosely divided into old and new sections by the Danube. Although the locals are quite proud of the new section, that portion of the tour constitutes a drive-by of many places you can't visit and returns to old town without stopping. We suggested the tour be structured to drop off those not interested in more bus rides at a central area prior to the new town portion, but it wasn't warmly received.

 

Vukovar, Croatia - The afternoon is a 25-30 mile bus ride to Osijek. It isn't a terribly long trip and the destination is worth the time.

 

All other portions of the itinerary can be characterized as the standard Viking fare (good guides and enjoyable venues). I hope this info helps you.

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This has been very helpful theremin and peregrina! I'm far less concerned now about having signed up for this cruise. Perhaps just a little gun shy about our recent Oceans experience. But your detailed descriptions have put my fears to rest. We're not travelling until next Spring 2016, so will have plenty of time to do some research.

 

Sounds like the one place we might want to look at options might be Belgrade. If we can figure out how to get from the boat to the old town and back again. About how far does the boat dock from the city itself? Would a taxi be totally out of the question?

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Thank you so much for all the wonderful information. We depart mid August for our Bucharest-Budapest voyage on Viking Aegir. We have a 3 day pre-cruise tour to Transylvania with a guide that we are very much looking forward to. Any words of advice or recommendations are greatly appreciated.

 

theremin....please ramble some more :)

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Firefly - is your guide in Transylvania a private guide or the Viking guide that you're doing as part of the Viking pre-cruise? If it's a private guide, how did you find them? If private, are you doing this DIY or using Viking to get you there and back? If DIY, how are you getting there and back and where are you staying?

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We're using a private guide. I did research of tour companies and their reviews. Doing our own air, also. Guide will pick us up at an airport hotel and drop us off at the Viking hotel. He has organized hotels and itinerary for our 3 nights/4days in Transylvania. I will report back after the trip and let you know how he was. My only regret...so far...is that I didn't allow time for a 5day tour :)

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Would really love to hear back from you. If your guide is good, I think I'll cancel the Viking pre-excursion and do it on our own (with your guide). Are you flying into Bucharest? When you say your guide is going to pick you up at an airport hotel, do you mean a Bucharest airport hotel? Are you going a night early and crashing near the airport and then he picks you up in the morning? Viking wants a whopping $800 per person for the Transylvanian extension which I'm guessing you got for less or at least matched, but will end up with a much better tour.

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Rousse, Bulgaria - There are multiple sightseeing stops and and a restaurant stop through the day. You rejoin your ship at a different port (Svistov) so the ride back is not a repeat. Still, this is a full-day outing with multiple bus segments. Unfortunately, since the boat is sailing during the excursion, the only other option is to remain on board.

 

ROUSSE: Hmm. File this one under "your mileage may vary." For this port of call, we re-boarded our ship in the same place as we had disembarked that morning in Rousse. I don't know if it is directional thing or it is one of those whim of the port authority kinds of thing. I don't know if it is one of those things that is known well in advance (like now for next year) or if the ship finds out the day before. I think that if you really need to know the answer, that you should contact Viking directly --and not play whispering down the lane with some vital information. "They told me on Cruise Critic" is useless if you are in Rousse and your private guide with car is waiting for you in Svishtov or vice versa.

 

BELGRADE: The ship docks not on the Danube but on the Sava River between the Kalemegdan Fortress and the bridge. You can use Google maps to look at the area. The new city is on the other side of the Sava River. The Old Town is a steep uphill walk from the ship. However, Viking did run hourly shuttle buses in the afternoon up to the Old Town for those who did not want to walk up or back. We did the optional tour of the Opera House in the afternoon and then opted to stroll back to the ship. BTW, be on deck as the ship departs Belgrade at night--nice view, lovely illuminations of the fortress and the skyline.

Edited by Peregrina651
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Peregrina - Thank you for correcting my misstatement about rivers in Belgrade. The city is, in fact, located at the confluence of the Danube and Sava rivers and the Viking dock is on the latter.

 

As for the Rousse, Bulgaria issue . . . don't know what to say. Maybe it is a seasonal thing? It wasn't a last minute adjustment as it was identified in the published itinerary. I agree "read it on cruise critic" won't do much good in the event of a disconnect. The lesson here is obvious: Verify all itinerary items & venues with Viking for your own specific cruise.

 

Again, I appreciate your clarification on these items.

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We're on the Aegir on May 3, shortly after you. This is a great general info thread on this cruise. Thanks to all previous posters.

 

Hi Elizabeth -

 

We did this cruise a couple of years ago - and enjoyed it. We started in Bucharest - ended in Budapest and extended a couple of days there. We might have done an extra day in Bucharest if we had known how lovely it was... but we do enjoy Budapest so spent our extra days there.

 

We booked a private transfer to the hotel - Bucharest Airport Transfer - http://www.bucharestairporttransfer.com/ - and I think they do trips to Bran Castle. Take a look at their website.

 

Fran

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Elizabeth,

We also used Bucharest Airport Transfers from the airport to hotel, and like Fran, wished we'd allowed extra time in Bucharest and outlying areas. Our driver did tell us about the tours they offered to Bran Castle and they sounded so tempting, but we just had so little time.

 

Becki

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It is difficult to ensure an accurate accounting of the bus-intensive ports due to changing itinerary and chance traffic, but here is my best effort.

 

Long-ish bus rides were noticed at the following ports:

 

Rousse, Bulgaria - There are multiple sightseeing stops and and a restaurant stop through the day. You rejoin your ship at a different port (Svistov) so the ride back is not a repeat. Still, this is a full-day outing with multiple bus segments. Unfortunately, since the boat is sailing during the excursion, the only other option is to remain on board.

 

Vidin, Bulgaria - This is a 1/2 day excursion via bus to the Belogradchik Fortress. The ride seemed a bit long, but the destination was worth the effort.

 

Belgrade Serbia - Believe it or not, we spent 1/2 day mostly on the bus in the city! Belgrade is loosely divided into old and new sections by the Danube. Although the locals are quite proud of the new section, that portion of the tour constitutes a drive-by of many places you can't visit and returns to old town without stopping. We suggested the tour be structured to drop off those not interested in more bus rides at a central area prior to the new town portion, but it wasn't warmly received.

 

Vukovar, Croatia - The afternoon is a 25-30 mile bus ride to Osijek. It isn't a terribly long trip and the destination is worth the time.

 

All other portions of the itinerary can be characterized as the standard Viking fare (good guides and enjoyable venues). I hope this info helps you.

 

 

 

Thank you so much for your reply. I will continue to follow the threads, as we are not planning a river cruise until 2017. 2016 is the Panama Canal from Miami to San Diego. But, I like the planning process as much as the cruise.

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Thank you so much for your reply. I will continue to follow the threads, as we are not planning a river cruise until 2017. 2016 is the Panama Canal from Miami to San Diego. But, I like the planning process as much as the cruise.

 

We did Panama Canal on Celebrity from San Diego to Ft. Lauderdale....it was fantastic. One thing you might consider since you live on the east coast: we flew to San Diego and started cruise there because crossing 4 time zones is easier if you're going from west to east and you're last day is sailing.... just my opinion.

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Hi Fran!

 

Remember you from another cruise - Russia wasn't it?

 

Thanks for the tip!

 

It was Russia.... So glad we went when we did!!

 

This cruise was one we had wanted to do for awhile - and really enjoyed it. Of course, any vacation that involves Budapest is a great one IMHO... LOVE Budapest, and would love to go back again (have only been there 3 times - lol).

 

Fran

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We were in St Petersburg at the end of May this year on the Viking Oceans maiden voyage and there were subtle changes from when we were both there in 2012. You could see them if you looked closely - not quite as many smiling faces and several store closings, and we Americans were not quite as happily greeted as before. Prices are much higher, but you get more rubles for US $ so it kind of evened out. Still a beautiful city! So much to see even the second time around.

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  • 1 month later...
Thank you, Ukalady.

 

I knew that it would be either you or Hydrokitty to give me just the right answer! The 110v outlets are 3-prong and you have the artwork to prove it. :D

 

Outlets or not, the new Chromebook is going back to the store and I'll wait for someone to produce a small, inexpensive and lightweight tablet with an SD card reader and a USB port (not holding my breath). Until then, my old "notebook" will just have to do.

 

BTW, do read Ukalady's blog. Not only is it fun to read but it is full of helpful information.

 

 

 

 

We use Microsoft Surface tablets... they have USB ports and instead of a digital camera use a smart phone that takes high quality photos.... like Lumia

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We use Microsoft Surface tablets... they have USB ports and instead of a digital camera use a smart phone that takes high quality photos.... like Lumia

 

I second Schoolinmy3's tech recs of the Surface tablet and Lumia smartphone. I use a Lumia 925 and have people comment ALL the time how much better my pics are than the ones shot with an iPhone or Android. During our NZ cruise, one passenger got so engrossed watching me take pics, he forgot to take his own pictures. :D

 

And having a Surface with a type-cover and Bluetooth mouse, it would almost be like having your home computer with you.

 

Check them out!

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...I use a Lumia 925 and have people comment ALL the time how much better my pics are than the ones shot with an iPhone or Android....

Check them out!

I'll match my iPhone 6+ against your Lumia 65. :D

Phil

Parliament - Budapest, Hungary

Viking%202015-082_edited-1-X3.jpg

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