My husband and I travelled on the brand new Viking Embla from Budapest to Nuremberg at the end of July, 2012. This is Viking`s Romantic Danube tour.
We had arranged our own 4-night stay in Budapest, before the cruise, and our package from Viking allowed for this and through them we had arranged the flight from our local international airport for a very reasonable additional charge. This made the package particularly attractive as it saved us from a 2.5hr drive to Luton. Instead a 15 min taxi ride to and from our local airport.
Upon arrival in our taxi on the embarkation day, Viking crew (all in red to match) were there to offer us a greeting and a warm welcome and were collecting the luggage up and smartly delivering it to our cabin (we later realized they were to be our very own waiters)
Our cabin was one with a french balcony. We were on level 2 and diagonally behind the reception. Excellent spot for speedy access to the main stairwell, the exits and to all decks. The cabin is not large, but there are lots of smart storage spaces and drawers and shelves. (Our Boutique Hotel in Pest, where we had spent the previous 4 nights had been a similar size but had felt cramped as it lacked the clever bespoke touches)
Inside the cabin there was a huge Sony TV on the wall opposite the twin comfy more than adequate beds. Available on the TV, using the remote, you can access the weather, the full itinerary, the team on board, Norse Viking legends, bow and lounge cameras, tv channels, Sky movies, music, etc. Fully interactive and impressive.
In the shower room, the floor is heated and fully adjustable.Wow!!! Air conditioning as one would expect and with the full floor to ceiling glazed door a view to the world to die for....and die you might but a sensible height waist rail restrains urges for a toe-dip.
In the cabin ready and waiting for us in there re-chargable units there were the radio packs, that we were to use on all our tours that required a guide. These radios proved to be perfect, no interference at all during the walks, unlike those we were issued while on Royal Caribbean tours!!!
We asked the cabin attendant for more hangers, they were delivered to the cabin within 2 seconds.
On the first full day in Budapest, we had chosen not to go to the guided tour, as we had both spent a lot of time sightseeing so we stayed on the ship and we sailed to Visegrad,up to the famous Danube bend. We practically had the whole ship to ourselves and immediately began to relax and make friends. You can`t help it, everyone you meet is so very happy. At Visegrad we met the rest of the passengers joining us for lunch after their Budapest excursion.
On every tour there was the possibility to choose a leisurely tour for those elderly or people who are able to only walk slowly. The alternatives are all calmly managed before you leave the ship(often the day before with sign up lists and announced reminders) With simple numererical references you are escorted to your appropriate bus always with the offer of a bottle of fresh water to aid the relief of expected warm weather or dull a head from the previous nights indulgences. Sensible use of the same number for your groups, your local guide and the channel on your radio means its all pretty idiot proof. Well there is always at least one..... isn`t there...
After each tour, you are welcomed back aboard with a sweet, colourful and refreshing drink. Nice touch! The timings were well rehearsed, and perfectly adequate. So much so that after each of the the tours we had enough time to relax a while, make our notes, write an e-mail, argue a little, make- up again and have a shower and change our attire. It didn`t matter if it were the evening before the dinner at 19.00 or for lunch where you can choose the sun lite terrace or full dining with wine or beers, you never feel rushed, just well motivated to enjoy everything being offered.
All this and all around you are the comforts of a state of the art, German engineered craft, smoothly gliding through the strong current of the Danube. You feel barely any sensation at all. You only know you are moving when the awe inspiring views out of each window begin to slide by as if you are watching National Geographic on HD quality television. You continue to relax and enjoy this closeness with the world at large and it` s simple beauty. Joy at sharing it with your companion and your table guests who all "get it" and have the same enthusiasm for the day you all just enjoyed and the meal you are currently all enjoying and the .. ..well it must be something they put in the water, that or the alcohol is more potent on board a riverboat.
Now towards the end of our 6th day after visiting Passau, our vessel docked at an unscheduled town, Vilshofen. No explanation available at first but complete trust in Viking. We were finally enlightened during the evening cocktail hour where our captain was to announce that the Danube`s water level was too low to continue safely to the next port of Regensburg. If it failed to rain that very evening further up in the Bavarian forests the itinerary would be affected.
The whole thing is explained calmly, perfectly succinctly. No vagueness, no room for mis-understanding. They explained the whole thing and like a well oiled machine the plan, so well rehearsed it`s second nature, is put into action. A slightly earlier start to the day and breakfast. A marginally longer bus journey which it never feels like it`s an inconvenience more like a little adventure. Arrangements for a fine lunch in a local restaurant, and the following day an announcement that a refund to compensate for the outlay for lunchtime beer or wine is credited to our on board accounts. Very civilised. As it happened it did rain that evening and after our trip to Regensburg we were re-united with the Embla.
The locks are fascinating, at least to begin with anyway. Each time we approached one in daylight hours and outside of mealtimes, most everyone is watching and waiting. We are all in awe of the precision our Captain displays as he negotiates the lock and other vessels. The distance between us looks barely 20cm or so. These other vessels mostly barges, some longer than our boat, especially when they lash two or more together are crewed by entire families.They all live aboard with their dogs and the family car strapped to the roof while flying the flags of their homelands: Slovakia, Ukraine, Serbia, Czech republic, etc .
Slowly the enormous doors close behind us and the sluice gates are opened. It takes up to half an hour to fill, which is why once you`ve seen two or three you`ve seen them all and one gets a bit blase about them, but they are still one of men`s wonders.
Overall an exceptional company operating superb vessels, staffed by wonderfully caring employees and offering memorable holidays in beautiful surroundings.
We have already booked our next cruise with Viking.