My neighbor and I had planned this trip for about two years and were not quite sure we would actually be able to go because of the severe flooding that occurred about a month before we were scheduled to leave.
We began our 15-day Grand European Tour with a 2-night pre-cruise stay at the Hilton in Budapest. Viking had done all the travel arrangements from air travel to transfers, and they did a superb job! We were met at the airport in Budapest by a Viking representative who quickly secured a private taxi to take us to the Hilton Hotel in Budapest. Our driver was quite knowledgeable and gave us a wonderful history of the area as we drove to the hotel.
The Hilton Hotel is in the ideal location of Budapest in the old city. Our room overlooked the river and the Fisherman's Bastion. A Viking desk was situated in the lobby of the hotel, and we were given excellent recommendations for sightseeing and dining by the two very accommodating Viking representatives. Budapest is an amazing city, quite beautiful and tourist friendly, and everyone we came in contact with spoke English. Just one caveat--we mailed post cards from the post office in Buda. The clerk took over $30 for postage and said she would apply the stamps. However, none of the post cards has arrived to date. As we left on the Odin from Budapest that first night, we were provided with an extraordinary view of the Castle district and bridge lit up in all its glory.
Our cabin was located on the main level in the middle of the ship, and we had a balcony. I would recommend it as we spent many pleasant afternoons there enjoying the solitude. Since the bathrooms in the cabins do not provide the level of privacy that one has at home (glass doors), you can retire to the balcony while your companion uses the bathroom. The public lounging areas of the ship were quite comfortable whether you wanted sun or shade. Many people enjoyed the sun deck on top of the ship. Unfortunately, low bridges caused it to be closed about half of the time we were traveling.
The tours or excursions were provided by guides native to the areas where we were traveling and were quite good for the most part. Our only complaint was our tour guide in Cologne who put everyone to sleep with his lack of expression.
The Program Director on this trip was Lucia (she was filling in for the regular director who was on vacation). Many on the ship called her St. Lucia as she was extraordinary in her ability to make sure everyone was accounted for and doing well. If there was a problem, she was there in an instant to handle the issue. Viking could not pay her enough for all she did to make everyone comfortable!
I think the food on board was quite good. Thomas, our chef, was there to greet us as we walked into dinner each evening. He provided all the passengers with a tour of his kitchen, a tour of one of the markets where he buys his food, and even did a cooking demonstration of waffle making with a sample for all at the end. While we did have lunch at a few restaurants in two of the cities we visited, Thomas' food was far superior!! By the way, he is quite a team player. We saw him taking luggage off the ship and sorting it (as did Lucia) as we prepared to depart for the airport.
While we were in Nuremberg, we were informed of the Lock Workers Strike and the fact that we would not be able to travel that night as planned. This caused the group to be bused to Bamberg the following day. Since we had missed a full day of travel, our visit to Kinderdijk was cancelled and our visit to Cologne was cut short. I guess this is precious little to complain about since we had perfect weather the whole time and many who had trips scheduled in June ended up traveling mainly on buses due to the floods.
My only complaint was not being able to much of Amsterdam. However, there was a large group heading back to the airport at 7 a.m., so our bus driver took a little extra time to give us a very short tour of the city as he drove to the airport. If you can afford it, I would recommend both the pre-and post packages for Amsterdam and Budapest!
All in all, this was a spectacular trip, with incredible scenery. We also met some wonderful people on board and shared some laughs and fun with them at dinner each evening. I've read many complaints about Viking failing to respond in a satisfactory manner regarding cruise disruptions. However, the crews on the ships are deserving of much praise in the way they go above and beyond to provide a good experience.