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New to river cruising - Viking Budapest to Amsterdam


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After decades enjoying ocean cruises I'm eagerly awaiting my first river cruise. One thing that has me stumped for planning is timing - I understand that most days a tour is included, usually about a half day. What I cant figure out is what to do with the rest of my time. I'm accustomed to planning and arranging independent tours in ports and travelling at night, but river cruises work differently and i cant find info on how much time we have in each port for independent experiences. How do i find how much time we spend in port but not with organized ship sponsored tours? Or will our days be full just doing the ship's tours and onboard happenings? I'd be fine with just walking around the port but i've been told that in some ports we are not close to the tourist areas but in more industrial areas. How do we plan our days?

 

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We recently did an AMAWaterways cruise on the Danube.  I found the days to actually be pretty busy since there was a tour in every port.  We had some extra paid options in Vienna and plenty of time to decide whether we wanted to participate.  There are fewer onboard activities and everything is a bit more laid back.  There was some local entertainment after dinner at some ports.  You won't be bored, but it is a different experience.

Edited by okayokayokay
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herbanrenewal,

I understand what you mean with the planning. From past cruisers that have both done ocean and river I have learnt that it is best to forget the ocean "need to plan the whole day through months in advance" thoughts. Or as okayokayokay has said: it is more laid back and a different experience.

 

After tours and on the evenings that the ship is docked in town you have free time to explore on your own. Yes, I know, that is the tricky bit to figure out - where and how much time? We discussed this here on the board a few weeks back - many cruise companies do not give exact times of when they are in port. They could as their itineraries are obviously compiled many months before a ship sails. If they did display for people to read the caveat would always be that any minor mishap like missing an allotted time for a lock or mild flooding would render that day's plan useless. In short: accept that much cannot be planned down to the minute by you the passenger.

 

In some ports you are indeed not docked near town, but most companies allow for that and provide shuttles. In many ports entertainment in the evening will be what the cruise company provides as the ship often sets sail at dinner time or shortly thereafter. Again this is often not known before you get detailed info sent to you personally with your documents.

 

However, there is one great source of detailed info: the roll calls! In there usually those going on the same itinerary on different dates will group together and exchange info. Have a look at past ones for Budapest to Amsterdam and add yourself to the one for this year.

 

Relax and soak up the atmosphere of rivers and cities, leave most of the planning to the company, be prepared for last minute changes and enjoy a great mode of travel.

 

notamermaid

 

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Yes, river cruising is a different experience when compared to ocean cruising. We did have a flexible plan for some ports on the Danube (example Vienna where we arrived late afternoon Wednesday, docked and did not depart until early morning Friday) as we preferred to DIY rather than participate in the ship tours. Check the roll call forum for Viking River cruises - they are not the same type of date specific roll calls that you will find for ocean cruises but you should get lots of info nonetheless. Don't know which specific Viking sailing you booked, but ...

Danube Waltz here: 

 

Romantic Danube here: 

 

Hope you enjoy your Danube cruise - we loved ours!

 

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2 hours ago, notamermaid said:

.....

However, there is one great source of detailed info: the roll calls! In there usually those going on the same itinerary on different dates will group together and exchange info. Have a look at past ones for Budapest to Amsterdam and add yourself to the one for this year.

 

Relax and soak up the atmosphere of rivers and cities, leave most of the planning to the company, be prepared for last minute changes and enjoy a great mode of travel.

Most of the posts I've seen on the roll call thread consist of "we are booked on the xx/xxxx cruise."   Not much info there.

What i have decided to do however is gratefully accept your advice and just relax and enjoy the cruise!

I still get to exercise my planning brain because we have 8 days before in Budapest and 8 days after in Amsterdam.

Thanks 

 

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We are also first time river cruisers on the Viking Budapest to Amsterdam Grand European adventure. Like you We are used to planning a full day in Port and wonder how much to plan. People I have talked with much prefer the river cruise to the traditional cruise as they say it is so much more relaxing. I look forward to following this thread and gather any ideas about additional excursions options and information concerning the ports. Our cruise begins May 27, 2020. We booked over a year ago so it is finally time to get excited! 

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1 hour ago, herbanrenewal said:

I still get to exercise my planning brain because we have 8 days before in Budapest and 8 days after in Amsterdam.

Wonderful  - both are amazing cities!

I would recommend booking Parliament in Budapest:  

https://www.jegymester.hu/eng/Production/480000/Parliament-visit

Also, AFH, Rijksmuseum & Van Gogh in Amsterdam:

https://www.annefrank.org/en/museum/tickets/

https://www.rijksmuseum.nl/en/online-tickets-and-shop

https://www.vangoghmuseum.nl/en/plan-your-visit/tickets

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You may find that many of the tours last longer than just the morning. There may be an included walking/bus tour but then you get dropped off in the center of town with free time. Viking will run a shuttle or two - just make sure you meet up again at the designated pick-up point on time! You're also given the exact dock location any time you leave the ship so if you have to cab it over, at least you won't worry about where the boat is, exactly (provided your cab driver knows where the address is; remember, too, that Uber doesn't work in most parts of Germany). 

 

If a port stop includes any type of dinner excursion - like the pub crawl in Cologne - that's a good indication that you'll be in port for a long time. You can take the bus into Cologne that morning and then ditch the group tour (just tell your guide). That gives you practically an entire day for Cologne. Granted, schedules can change and perhaps the boat will have to leave the dock earlier than expected. It may be tough to meet up again if you strike out on your own. Likewise, given that this tour overnights in Vienna, you can reasonably expect to have more time in that port than in others. 

 

I was on the Rhine Getaway last spring (my first cruise of any sort) and really liked letting go of all the planning that I normally do. The included tours were good, generally, and we settled quickly into a relaxing routine of breakfast, excursion, lunch, reading on the terrace, dinner and then a nightcap or two. 

 

One thing to look for in past roll calls are copies of the dailies. If nothing else, those can tell you where the shipped docked. On my Rhine cruise, for example, the boat docked in a small town called Breisach while excursions went off to Colmar and the Black Forest. Those that chose to skip those tours said that was a perfectly lovely little town, well worth walking around in. Ports aren't always industrial wastelands, even if the main attraction for that stop is a bus ride away (if that makes sense. 

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35 minutes ago, 3rdCoastFan said:

I was on the Rhine Getaway last spring (my first cruise of any sort) and really liked letting go of all the planning that I normally do. The included tours were good, generally, and we settled quickly into a relaxing routine of breakfast, excursion, lunch, reading on the terrace, dinner and then a nightcap or two. 

 

This has been my experience.  I've also found that there are a few tours off the beaten path that I normally wouldn't have done on my own or even known they existed or how to get there.  One that comes to mind is the Vinegar Estate when we were docked near Speyer.  The estate is out in the country and I have no idea how you would get out there if you weren't on an organized tour.  I now love fig vinegar...who knew?

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2 hours ago, dogs4fun said:

Wonderful  - both are amazing cities!

I would recommend booking Parliament in Budapest:  

https://www.jegymester.hu/eng/Production/480000/Parliament-visit

Also, AFH, Rijksmuseum & Van Gogh in Amsterdam:

https://www.annefrank.org/en/museum/tickets/

https://www.rijksmuseum.nl/en/online-tickets-and-shop

https://www.vangoghmuseum.nl/en/plan-your-visit/tickets

Thank you  for the links. I bought my Parliament tickets this morning. Now I can look into the others.

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I will 2nd and 3rd what has been said above.  I would also like to note 2 things of which at least one has already been mentioned above.

1.  The departure time you see when you get your documents might or might not be the actual departure time.  Pending where you are docked at it is possible the ship might have to leave earlier due to the "harbour master" changing the departure time or Viking changing the departure time due to high/low water.

2.  The ship might move from it's arrival dock to another dock for departure.  This can be a planned move or again it can be due to high/low water.  N some ports this can be some distance away.

 

You need to pay attention to your Daily Schedule for each port.  It will have this information in it unless the change happens overnight and then there will usually be something available at breakfast that notifies you of the change and/or there will be a notice at the desk where you pick up your disembarkation card.  Fm you have a concern you can always ask at the desk when you pick up your disembarkation card.

All of the above is to say you have to be aware of departure dock (same as arrival?) and your departure time.  If the departure dock changes the only way to get there will be the Viking shuttle or maybe a taxi.

Now that I have you concerned about making it on the ship for departure let me add this.  We always do research on our ports of call and decide if there is something we would like to do outside of the ship tours, pending shuttles, etc.  If there is, then we plan on doing that after the ship tour is completed.  There is usually always time for some independent time in the ports unless the port time is short.  If there is a change in departure time or port that would affect our ability to complete our own plans we just change the plans and go with the flow.  What we do not do, except for the originating and terminating ports is to make and pay for independent excursions because of the unknown potential change in docks and times.

 

As was said by someone else enjoy the cruise, the ports and the down time.

River cruises are designed to be more of a "laid back" cruise versus an ocean cruise.

Hope you have as good of a time on your river cruise as we have had.

 

Stan

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5 hours ago, cruiserdg said:

Thank you  for the links. I bought my Parliament tickets this morning. Now I can look into the others.

  There is so much to do in Budapest...  It is one of our favourite cities in Europe - and we always find something to do. Much of the city is walkable.  Although the Parliament tickets are best purchased in advance, there are lots of things to see and do that don't require pre-booking.  Of course, a trip to the market is a must... and can take up a chunk of time wandering both the main and upper levels.  Walk over to the Cave Church - just across the bridge from the market.  On the Buda side, you can visit the Hospital in the Rock. By the Chain Bridge - walk over to the Shoes on the Danube memorial.  A visit to the House of Terror is a sobering reminder of what the people is Budapest lived through.   You can go out to Statue Park.  We booked a tour that included that park - and were picked up in a Trabant for the tour.  My DH was *very* excited about that!!  And the food!!  I would highly recommend a visit to Café Kor. 

 

In Amsterdam, a museum that is not as well known in the Dutch Resistance Museum.   Walkable from Dam Square - and no line-ups to get in.   We also did a WWII walking tour that was really interesting...

 

We love river cruising... (#15 coming up this month....) - and have rarely (if ever) been bored.  We will look at outside excursions if we have already visited a port that is included.  If you have an idea of things you might want to see, the cruise director (and/or concierge, on a Viking boat) can assist with planning.)  Enjoy!!

 

Fran

Edited by franski
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I'm another one who will add the the "sit back and let someone else do the planning" idea.  I research for years (I think for our Rhine cruise in 2018 I started looking into ports / cruise lines a good 3-4 years in advance.  I've been researching the Danube ports (we will be booking for 2021 later this year) almost as soon as I got back from the Rhine.  However, it's nice to know what is available in case you do decide to go off on your own, but the local guides are very informative, and we only really "ditched" one tour because we felt we would see more going on our own (which we did, as we met those who stayed with the guide and they didn't get to see half of the village).

 

I suggest relaxing and enjoying your cruise, plan for your pre & post as you normally would.  You can always have to much to see, but at least if the weather changes or something comes up, you have a back up plan.  Go on a couple of tours to see what they are like, if you don't enjoy what they do, then you have enough info researched to go on your own ....as long as you know how & when to get back to the boat!

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We did Budapest-Amsterdam Viking River Cruise.  We are experienced  ocean cruisers and this was our first European River Cruise.  The biggest problem with the included tours , except for a couple of stops, was that you used 40 passenger busses.  This meant that you loaded and unloaded at the pace of the slowest passenger in your group.  We did DIY in Vienna and Nuremberg.  We had been to Vienna in the past, and we wanted to visit certain museums on our own.  In Nuremberg we wanted to spend more time at certain sights such at the War Crimes Courtroom, so we hired own tour guide.  Several times we skipped the included tour and just struck off on our own, e. g. Köln.   We compared the Viking tour itineraries with what was available at a particular port.  Sometimes we would do part of the included tour, and make our way back to the boat.  Sometimes the boat would move during the day, but we never missed a departure.  River cruising is a different experience, we enjoyed it.  

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4 hours ago, WisRiver said:

We did DIY in Vienna

Same here - we didn't want to waste time with the ship tour . We also elected to visit Salzburg on our own (railjet) rather than the optional tour provided by the ship.

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Flexibility is key. Due to a number of factors you won't know specific times until the day before. IMO It's crucial that you attend the daily briefing or watch it on your stateroom TV. Ships have to queue up to enter the locks. Somewhat akin to a railroad, there are dispatchers on the river. This may necessitate leaving port earlier or later than expected. On one cruise we left a few hours early to enter a lock and avoid a lengthy delay. This helped keep us on schedule for the next day.

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