Getting there and home - We flew from JFK to Nuremberg, connecting through Paris, just two weeks after the new ban on liquids and gels in carryon luggage. We were on a 747 (Air France)to Paris, then a 50 passenger jet to Nuremberg. The flight on the 747 was very uncomfortable. There is a black box with electrical wires under every middle seat. My husband couldn't sleep, because he couldn't stretch his legs. We were pleasantly surprised that the Nuremberg airport had signs in both English and German. The security in the Budapest airport for the flight home was even stricter than JFK. All signs in that airport were in Hungarian, English, and German. The Budapest airport accepts not only Hungarian forints, but also euros and US dollars in their cafes and shops. Pickup and dropoff by Viking was very smooth on both ends.
The Ship - The Viking Europe holds only 150 passengers, so is nothing like an ocean-going cruise ship, or even an American riverboat. There are the dining room, the main lounge, the sun deck, and a couple of very small nooks that serve as a "library" and "game room". The staterooms are very well designed. There is plenty of room for clothing, suitcases, etc. There were plenty of plugs, but they are european voltage - so you must bring a converter and an adaptor. They told us this ahead of time, so we were prepared. There is a blow-dryer in the room, so no need to bring one, but if you want to plug in your digital camera - bring those adaptors!
Service - The stateroom steward was the best we've ever had in 12 cruises! The service in the dining room and lounge were good, too.
Food - Good, but not great. I am not a fish or seafood eater, so that colors my opinion of the choices. You can always have a steak or chicken breast if you don't like either the nightly meat or fish option. So two nights out of the seven, I had chicken breast, and it was very good. I would have liked to see more local specialties. There was always a choice of water, iced tea, and hot coffee and tea available in the lounge, 24/7.
Since the ship is so small, it's not a big deal to walk to the lounge. The breakfast and lunch buffets always had lots of food, but not too much variety. We never felt we had the time to order the cooked breakfast, but we never went away hungry! The breads and pastries were very good. One nice surprise - the pastries and desserts aren't nearly as sweet as in the US. This is nice because you can actually taste the flavor. I really loved the little multi-grain rolls with seeds on them that were on the breakfast buffet.
Shore Excursions - Hmm. Uneven. We had a couple of guides who were very good, and a couple who very not good. Those who were not good talked so much about trivial things that we only had 20 minutes or less to enjoy the destination. For example, the guide at Melk Abbey left us 20 min. to see the Abbey church, go to the gift shop, use the rest room, and have a beer! (They have been brewing beer there since 1050, so tasting the beer was something we had been looking forward to.)
The guide in Vienna, was not only long-winded, but disorganized, rude and insulting. By the end of the tour, I couldn't wait to be rid of her. Oh, besides the above she also seemed to be anti-semitic, based on some comments she made. There was at least one included shore excursion every day. We went on one optional excursion - to a concert in Vienna. It was better than we expected, and we thought we would like it. The first half was Mozart, and the second half was Strauss. There were 6 instrumentalists and 2 opera singers and 2 dancers. The concert was just the right length, and was delightful, even including some humor. We didn't go on either of the optional tours in Budapest, so can't comment on them.
Entertainment - Uneven. Two were delightful, one OK, one dreadful. However, one doesn't go on a cruise like this for the entertainment. One goes for the destinations, and the cultural experience. The first two were delightful - Klaus the glassblower, and Hansi the musician. Klaus was interesting and funny, and Hansi was hysterical, besides being a very fine musician. The crew show was dreadful. But then, I don't like pantomime, unless it's being done by Red Skelton. The Hungarian folkloric show was OK. It would have been good if someone had introduced them, and told what instruments they were playing, and something about the pieces of music they were playing. They just came on, performed, and left.
Destinations - We loved them all. Nuremberg had the best sausages we ever had. Regensberg, Nuremberg, and Passau were beautiful and historic. Passau was also were we went to a local restaurant for lunch, where the cook comes out and yodels for you. Weltenburg Abbey had a beautiful church and great beer. Melk was absolutely stunning, and we wished we had more free time to walk in the gardens and/or visit the little town! (We had to wait in the courtyard so long, no free time!)
Vienna was amazing. We would need a week to see everything we wanted to see there. We skipped the optional tour of Schonbrunn Palace so that we could eat lunch in town, try Sacher Torte for dessert, and go to the Art History Museum. Budapest is also very nice, and someday we will go back and see some more of it. The shops in the Central Market close at 2 PM on Saturday, so we had a mad one hour shopping spree, and then spent the afternoon packing. (Our tour was in the morning, and ended at noon.) Two really good surprises - the ship docked right across the street from the Central Market, and all of the merchants spoke English! They take both forints and euros, so there was no need to buy forints.
Summary - We loved the destinations, but were frustrated that we didn't have more free time in most of them. But then, as I reminded my husband, that is true on an ocean cruise also. It's a survey, so you can decide where you want to go back to. The problem is, we want to go back to all of them.
Personally, I liked Germany a little better than Austria, and I liked Austria a little better than Hungary. But then, we were in only a few cities, so I'm not passing judgement on the whole countries. I'll just have to go back!