Viking River Cruise's "Danube Waltz" 8-day cruise from Passau to Budapest, August 18 through 25. Party of three; one single & one 2nd-deck double stateroom.
We flew ourselves JFK-Prague three days ahead of the Passau departure and rented a flat 1.5 blocks from Wensceslas Square. And we did it, all-in, for less than 2/3 of what Viking wanted for their pre-cruise extension (w/o airfare) - including all transfers, a large 2-BR flat, meals, a local tour and in-flat groceries. Prague was a pleasant place to recover from jet lag & adjust to central/eastern Europe. Hired a private Mercedes van to take us from Prague to Passau on departure day, and enjoyed the drive through farmlands to the port. The boat was easy to locate in Passau, the Viking staff made embarkation incredibly easy, and we were in our staterooms by 1:30pm AFTER we enjoyed a leisurely buffet lunch in the 3rd deck lounge.
Passau suffered mightily during the June 2013 flooding; flood stage was in the vicinity of 39' above normal river level - the highest flood levels in recorded history (check the rathaus for flood marks). Most of the first floor shops/stores, etc. had been destroyed, and very little has been rebuilt. However, the entire port area was SPOTLESS; everything had been cleaned up and was more presentable than a lot of other cities we've visited. Well done.
Overall highlights/recommendations -
+ Don't pass up on any of the half-day included bus/walking tours in each of the ports of call. They are generally well-done, allow for plenty of time to gaze & take photos, and are usually 1.5-3 hours long. Leisurely versions are available for those who have motoring limitations, and they are well worth it.
+ ENJOY the open seating for meals; it's comfortable and (usually) a lot of fun to share meals with new friends. One seating at each meal is NOT an issue, it actually led to a more convivial atmosphere after the first day.
+ DO NOT FRET over the relative lack of too-many choices for meals that come on larger ships. Each evening meal had three unique entrees; one meat, one chicken.fish, and one vegetarian, plus 3-4 standard items (steak, BBQ chicken, and I forget what else), along with salads, appetizers, wonderful desserts, and complimentary wine/beer at each meal. We only heard on whining complaint; the red wine was "too sweet" for one person (whaa-whaa-whaa).
+ This is NOT ocean cruising. If that's what you crave, please enjoy yourselves on the larger ships. This is a boat that's 11.5M wide, 110+M long, and only has four decks. The staterooms are just as large as comparable ones on ocean-going ships, and have everything that a reasonable traveler wants/needs. The wi-fi worked all of the time we wanted it - it's only unavailable on the sun deck in order to orient the wireless signal better within the confines of the boat.
+ The cities visited (Passau, Liz/Salzburg, Melk/Durnstein, Vienna, Bratislava & Budapest) are all well worth the trip. Snap reactions - Salzburg was too full of tourists to feel comfortable walking without bumping into others at the end of European holiday season; Vienna was a big city although with too much classical history to pass it up; Bratislava is worth another visit if it could be joined to other destinations; and Budapest is absolutely charming and an up-and-coming tourist destination.
+ Viking does it right. Our cruise staff was professional, NOT in your face all of the time, and catering to any reasonable request. The Cruise Director (David Morgan) was thoroughly professional and spot-on with his recommendations. The hotel, concierge and housekeeping staffs were very timely (our staterooms were re-made by the time we finished breakfast EVERY DAY), and there were literally no bumps in the road (pun intended) during the cruise.
In sum; we're already planning our next Viking River cruise - Russia from St. Petersburg to Moscow anyone?