Viking Prestige - Budapest to Amsterdam
August 26 - Room 127
This was our first experience with a river cruise. We are a couple in our early 60's. As such we were among the youngest cruisers on our trip. We were traveling with four other couples.
Embarkation: Could not be easier. We rolled our luggage from to Sofitel Chain Bridge to the Viking Prestige. It was a 5 minute walk only because we had luggage to get over curbs. We dropped it off at the ship about 10:30AM and were given two cards with our room number. After pocketing the cards, we took off to explore Budapest on foot. We returned about 2:00PM and grabbed a light lunch of salad and prepared sandwiches. Shortly after we finished lunch we exchanged the cards for keys and were given access to our room.
Stateroom: I found the cabins to be well thought out. They were a decent size for a river ship (we understand). It was about the size of an interior room on an ocean cruiser. Surprisingly, no one was able to tell us the exact size of our cabin. We were given estimates from 155 to 175 square feet. Although, we were in one of the "basement" rooms, it was identical in size and furnishings as the French balconies on the 2nd and 3rd deck. We chose the 1st deck cabin at a savings of approximately $1000. During our 14 days aboard, I only missed the larger window on rare occasions, definitely not $1000 worth. If I were to sail again I would probably book a 1st deck cabin again, however I would choose one closer to mid-ship for convenience. I will not again be startled by opening my drapes to find a group of ducks staring in at me.
Our room was the last cabin aft, immediately before the staff area. We heard absolutely NO noises from the staff area or the hallways. There was intermittent noise from the vacuum plumbing system. On two different occasions for about 15-20 minutes we did notice sewage smells (both times while in port), but not enough to be bothersome. We could hear water lapping the side of the ship (and sometimes our window) and my spouse was sometimes awakened briefly by the engines and thrusters as we were entering or leaving locks.
Although the bathroom was small, I thought it was very well designed. The quarter circle shaped shower occupied a good portion of the room, but the cleverly designed doors which could be swung into the shower area increased the floor space. The shower had good pressure and HOT water. The shower also had a retractable laundry line which we made use of almost daily. There is a mirrored storage cabinet with 3 shelves which easily held all our toiletries, meds, razors, etc. As others have commented, the location of the magnifying mirror is awkward in location and height...not in a good position for a 62 inch tall woman.
On each side of the bed above the night stand, was an adjustable reading lamp and also an electrical outlet. I'm sure those were handy for those with CPAP machines...I just used mine to charge my tablet. There are two electrical outlets at the vanity -- one European and one 110v. We had a converter, so had more outlets than needs.
The cabin had plenty of storage. The two closets originally provided 10 wooden hangers, but our request for 5 more was quickly answered. There were two hooks on the cabin door, two hooks on the bathroom door, and two hooks in the bathroom which were handy.
The beds were comfortable, but seemed shorter than a standard queen sized bed. They are two 30 inch beds pushed together so there is a crack between the two which was not a problem for us. The room size could be a problem when two of us were trying to dress at the same time. My using the hair dryer blocked any access to the two chairs by the window. As a result, my spouse would have to roll across the bed to get to the chairs to put on his shoes and socks.
Our room steward, Snezana, provided all the services we have come to expect from our room stewards.
Ship Design & Decor: The ship is quite simple. Deck 2 center is the desk area, open stairwell, concierge, "gift shop", and primary entry to the ship. Deck 2 forward is the dining room. Deck 3 forward is the lounge, a small serving area for buffets, and a small open viewing area. Deck 3 aft is a small library. Deck 4, when available, is the sun deck, wheel house, and aft is the staff smoking area. There is no elevator, but each flight of stairs only has about 14 stairs.
The lounge area serves as cocktail lounge, meeting area, entertainment area, and gathering area. It meets each of these needs just adequately. The furniture is a little heavy and bulky making it difficult to rearrange to meet each of these needs. Unlike ocean liners, the tables can also be moved. Our group liked to play cards and there wasn't a suitable area that we could use and not disturb other guests.
The decor of the ship is what I would call Danish modern. The overall appearance is somewhat stark and plain compared to the newer Viking Ships we toured. We were happy with the decor, until we saw the others! We thought ours looked cheap by comparison.
Dining & Food Service: Being part of a group of 10, we wanted to eat our meals together. Because there are just a few 10 top tables, this meant one member of our group had to go to the dining room early to stand in line to snatch our table. Not having assigned seating was one of the frustrations of our trip and we were not alone. There were several other large groups who also wanted to dine together and had to go through the same process. The staff recognizing a need for more large tables, at dinner would pull two tables together for a large group. Unfortunately, because so many formed these groups for meals, others traveling alone were placed in a position to have to go from table to table to beg to be allowed to eat with others. They told me they found this process to be uncomfortable. I recognize that Viking wants their guest to mingle and visit over meals, but on our cruise that just didn't happen at dinner. I believe they should consider assigning tables for dinner.
Because we had the same table for all meals we also had the same server for all our meals, Damir. Damir was an excellent server. He had 10 years of experience on the large ocean liners and used that experience to help us adapt to the difference in service. Specifically, he gently directed our orders toward the specials for that meal, rather than ordering the "everyday" offering as that slowed down preparation and service. He also kindly prodded us to make our selections promptly. The first evening we might have felt rushed, but we quickly realized the reward was our table consistently received our courses ahead of some others. Damir and his co-server Svetlana never let our wine glasses get empty and anticipated orders of soft drinks and beer. When time allowed, Damir would visit with our table and share stories of Romania.
Food portions at dinner were generally somewhat smaller than what we have experienced in the US. Initially, we were concerned with portion sizes, but we never wanted for more. Those with larger appetites adjusted by ordering two starters (soup & salad). At times the kitchen would have more portions of an item than was ordered and the maitre d' would offer additional servings. Dessert portions were also sometimes small, for instance a serving of apple cake about the size of a brownie. But again, most of us were not used to having dessert at every meal and found the portion size to be adequate. The ice cream portions were consistently generous -- several scoops with topping and whipped cream. Every evening we walked away from the table very full.
Ports & Tours: This being a 14 day cruise makes it almost impossible to comments on each port individually. Overall we were extremely fortunate; the Danube River was at a level that allowed us to cruise the entire 14 days. The cruise immediately preceding ours was not as lucky.
Viking provided tours at each port. Busses were used (based on my memory) in Budapest, Bratslava one way, Vienna to transport us to city center, Melk one way, Nuremberg, Bamberg to transport us to city center, Wurzburg to transport us to city center and on to our optional tour of Rothenburg, and to the Marksburg Castle and on to Koblenz. Outside of our optional tour to Rothenburg the bus trips were 15-20 minutes each way. Tour group sizes were 25-30 if walking, more if a bus tour. Group sizes were not an issue as much as the number of groups. Normally there were other several ships in town and the tours competed for sidewalk and viewing places. This also affected the operation of the transmitters and receivers used on the tours.
We enjoyed some ports more than others, but mostly it's a matter of personal taste and the weather conditions. The only major disappointment was Nuremburg. There was a bike race and other activities in town, so it seemed like we only did a quick drive by of a couple of major sites, with a stop at a cemetery which was pretty but of limited significance and then back to the ship.
There were several times we chose not to do the walking tours, but to set off on our own. We might not recognize the historical significance of what we saw, but we got to see some lovely sites. Some of our more enjoyable experiences were on our own.
Debarkation: At 9:00AM we contacted the front desk to send someone for our luggage. We followed the porters, paid our outstanding bill at the front desk, turned in our keys, grabbed our bags and walked to the train station where we caught a tram to our lodging in Amsterdam.
Overall Cruise Experience: Viking is not the "fun ship". Entertainment leans toward educational. Music is closer to classical than contemporary. I enjoy the symphony, but I also like rock and roll also. I thought Viking could do a better job with frivolous entertainment. The only mindless entertainment offered was guessing what item was hidden in each of 10 socks. What about a scavenger hunt? I would like to have had one night of music from the 60's on the sun deck. Although I'm not a karaoke fan, a group sing-a-long a couple of times for an hour would have been fun. The piano player, Christo, seemed to play the same songs every evening.
The crew did put on two excellent luncheons on the sun deck -- a "Taste of Austria" and "Taste of Germany". Both were very well done, although the weather affected the Germany lunch. On small suggestion would be to have a longer loop of music played while cruising the Rhine.
The staff was outstanding and worked constantly. A corny, but nice touch was the staff gathering before dinner to wish you well or gathering on the deck to welcome us as we returned from tours.
Aggravations: This cruise crosses the continental divide of Europe. As a result there on more than 60 locks the ship goes through. The first few are interesting, but they do become tiring. Although we may have sensed the ship going through locks as we slept, they did not disturb our sleep.
This cruise also goes beneath some very LOW bridges. As a result for 6 days the sun deck is closed. We were aware of this before we cruised, but were still disappointed. There were outdoor spots in various locations other than the sun deck that allowed about 50 people to sit outside. I normally found my desire to sit outside could be met.
Conclusion: We had a great experience. We would recommend Viking and the Prestige to other cruiser. We plan to book future river cruises.