This was our first European River Cruise. It was the Grand European Tour from Budapest to Amsterdam on the Viking Longship Njord. In our case, we had a very enoyable cruise. The crew was friendly and efficient, food was generally quite good, and cabin cleanliness was exceptional. Our cruise cost a base of about $16,000, and we paid about $20,000 including airfare, shore tours, onboard spending, etc. For that money, you expect things to be close to perfect. In our case, not too far off. But, people on the identical ship Idun sailing from Amsterdam to Budapest were complaining a lot in the couple ports that we overlapped. So, we concluded that crew makes a BIG difference. Here are some quick comments:
Good: Cabin cleanliness was the best we have ever seen. The waitress we used most of the time for meals (Lucia) was also exceptional. The crew kept everyone well informed on activities and issues in a daily briefing. Also, the airfare deals were super (we booked our own, however). Basically, $199 roundtrip from several Eastern airports, and $399 from elsewhere in the U.S. The general scenery and ports were fabulous -- many many UNESCO sites. Some of the theme lunches were great - especially the German one. Additional land tour to Rothenburg was great and well worth the money.Embarcation and disembarcation were both wuite easy and efficient.program director (Darinka) had boundless energy.
Not so good: Food quality uneven at times; Captain's dinner a big disappointment; Crew members all spoke English, but were often hard to understand; land tours were mostly walking around, and often not going into key museums,etc. Add on tours were rather expensive, although some were worth the money (like Rothenburg and Mozart concert). Also, although airfare deals were good, pre and post cruise hotels had to be booked through Viking if you used their airfares, and the hotels were very expensive (lots of complaints from fellow passengers about this). Finally, recommended daily gratuity of 12 Euros per person was high (but, the crew probably depends on it, as we suspect their salaries are quite low).
Bad: Avoid the drink package, which is way way overpriced. Think about how many drinks a day you would have to consume to get your money's worth !! And, beer and wine were free at lunch and dinner anyway. Also, what they don't tell you upfront is that either too high or too low water levels (on the Main and Danube rivers) can result in the cruise turning into a bus tour. We came close to that for a period of time, but it rained, and our ship was able to get through. In addition, the sundeck was closed for 5 days in a row due to low bridges -- again, not something they tell you upfront.
A few other tips: Travelers checks were very hard to use (apparently due to instances of fraudulent ones -- even most banks would not exchange them). But, U.S. credit cards were generally accepted, although there were often minimum charge amounts. If you start in Budapest, and arrive a couple days early to see the city, the Sofitel Chain Bridge is a very good hotel, only 200 meters or so from the dock (and two blocks from the hop on, hop off bus starting point). The ship currency is Euros. when you pay your bill at the end, you can pay by credit card (or cash) in Euros or dollars. The ship charges 3% to convert Euros to dollars (and your bank may well have an additional charge). So, use a card like Capital one that charges no conversion fee. Finally, nearly all of the passengers are retirees,with average age in th 65n to 75 range. do Not book a cruise like this with children or especially, teenagers!