The Viking Grand Europe River Cruise, Amsterdam-Budapest appealed to me because it offered an opportunity to see many countries without the hassle of packing and unpacking and arranging for transportation. The cities we visited were all new to me and this seemed like a good way to "sample" places that I'd like to return to in the future. That said, the itinerary was a good match for what I wanted.
From booking to disembarking, this trip met or exceeding expectations. Viking delivered on all its advertised luxuries. Except for the weather, which either rained or threatend rain every day but two, I was delighted with the experience. Again, I think it is critical to do your research ahead of time so you know what a trip like this is and isn't.
What it is:The long-ships are essentially a very well run hotel on the river with experienced staff. From the enthusiastic program director to the service oriented waitstaff, there is a clear message that they are working to make your trip the best. The excursion guides are locals and in addition to being well informed, they are terrific ambassadors for their cities (many of which are hoping that tourism will boost their economy). We had a room on the third deck with a balcony. Our travel companions had a suite on the same deck. Since we spent little time in the room, the space was adequate and the balcony was a nice feature. I think the French balcony would have been fine as well and a real upgrade over the small window on the first deck (not good if you like fresh air at night). The food quality seemed to improve significantly as the trip proceeded. I highly suggest spending the extra money to eat lunch in the cities when in a port if you want to meet locals and get a real sense of the local cuisine. Breakfast and dinners on board were very good with the last few night's dinners excellent. If you like lingering over dinner this is the place. Dinner starts at 7 and we were usually at our table until 9:00. The evening entertainment varied from fair to fabulous-especially the off-ship concert in Vienna. I wish there were more of these options offered especially when in larger cities such as Cologne. If you don't like arranged guides with quick visits to cathedrals and palaces and walks through medieval towns, this is NOT the trip for you. There were times I was wishing for more free time (which you could do in lieu of the guided tour), but over all it was a good balance of free and structured time. As with any cruise, you can be as social or solitary as you wish. Our fellow travelers were easy to interact with. Since we were traveling with another couple, we spent much time together while also engaging with others at meals and during the day trips. The layout of the ship makes it easy to find a quiet spot to read or relax as you cruise down the beautiful river. As a relatively fit and active couple, we were surprised to learn that our daily walks through towns (many with great hills and stairs to climb) proved adequate for our exercise needs. I was brave enough to weigh myself upon our rerun and shocked to find I had only gained pound (and I drank beer and ate dessert every day). Lastbut not least, this was a trip where you could dress as casually as you wanted. Some dressed up a bit for dinners, but you really could live in jeans everyday if you so desired.
What it is NOT: It is not the kind of trip where you are going to feel you get your value worth if you stay on the ship all day. It is not a trip for those who wish to spend quality time
in one or two cities (although the pre and post trip options would allow for this). It is not a trip that will satisfy if you are not willing to take a chance on the unpredictable weather, which can cause significant problems as many travelers noted during the June floods. It is also not a trip that you should consider if you aren't willing to compensate the excellent staff. Some on board our trip commented on the tipping guidelines but we thought about what we would tip if we went out to dinner every night for 15 nights and it seemed within reason. That said, they are just guidelines. We were happy to compensate all the staff for their excellent service.
Overall, this was a very good trip in large part because we had a pretty good idea of what to expect. Like all trips, there was some luck involved. No floods or strikes or ship malfunctions. Other than a mild cold, all went off without a hitch. Now, if someone from the staff could just help me sort through my1000+ photos...