We recently returned from the Danube Waltz, Budapest to Passau in early September aboard the Viking Legend. The experience and scenery far surpassed our expectations. Our favorite highlights of the trip:
Budapest in particular is an absolute delight. The city is so much prettier than we expected it to be. The docking location is right at the base of the Chain Bridge, thus giving easy access to walk and explore the city, and that we did. There are so many truly beautiful, old, ornate, and well-cared for buildings and streets on both sides of Budapest. The pedestrian shopping zone is just a couple of blocks off the river. It contained numerous sidewalk cafes, courtyards, local shops as well as Hard Rock Cafe, and Harley Davidson. A bus tour is included in the itinerary. The running commentary of our guide and the stops were good, but I thoroughly recommend allowing extra days to explore this city and its surrounding area. We wished we had, and plan to go back to have the opportunity to do so, as we really only time to see a brief overview.
The optional excursion offered in Budapest of the Hungarian Horsemanship is great fun, with an added bonus of getting to see a little of the countryside on the way there.
The ship leaves the city at night, and that is when the true beauty and magic of the city comes alive, as most of the buildings along both sides of the river are lit up and outlined in white lights. Everyone was on deck to view it as long as possible.
Bratislava is another unique stop that we wished we had more time to explore on our own, as it the architecture and ornate designs of old buildings and churches that fascinate us. There is plenty of that there.
The optional tour at Vienna is to Schonbrunn Palace. Of the huge palace and hundreds of rooms, only a few are open to public viewing, and are similar to other castles of the period. We enjoyed the extensive fountains and gardens more, and actually would have preferred to have had the choice to view the Zoo on the property instead of the Palace. We didn't have time to go in, but its video and photo ad outside the gates displays a surprising number and variety of animals (pandas) and it looked nice. It also had a beautiful location on the palace grounds.
One of our favorite highlights of river cruises, is when we spend afternoon or morning time cruising. It is such a nice and stress-free way to have even a brief view of passing countryside. It is especially enjoyable when the scenery is as pretty as along the Danube. We are thankful for the upper deck setup with chairs, tables, loungers, and the nice glass screen that blocks wind and cool air. Even though early September, the air was brisk. It is also really nice to Viking to give each cabin wool blankets to wrap up in on deck.
The stop at Linz offers a day-trip to Salzburg. As we had previously been to Salzburg and the forecast was for rain all day there, we opted to stay at Linz. It has good shopping options, in particular there were sidewalk cafes, and street vender stalls which ran for several blocks in a pedestrian zone selling everything from home-made soaps, perfume, jewelry to candies, cheese, grilled brats and other foods. A great place to taste and shop for souvenirs. We had a great time exploring.
The last stop was Passau, and our favorite of the small town stops. The buildings and scenic location of Passau are displayed in many photos and ads, but none of them do it justice. In reality it is the complete package of almost unbelievable beauty, charm, and quaintness. Even though it was hard hit by the June floods, the town has been totally cleaned up. There is only the new high water line on buildings to show the height waters reached -- up to the 3rd floor on many. Passau is best viewed from the castle and its grounds perched above the river. There is a bus to the top, or a walking path. We walked it, and while some 500 plus steps, it isn't that bad. We took our time and enjoyed the scenery along the way.
All too soon, the 8 day river cruises end. We have only Viking trips to compare, but we have enjoyed them all. We like the efficiency of Viking's staff. They really do handle everything, and in our opinion and on our trips, they have done an outstanding job in arrangements and details. We really can't fault them on much, (but putting alarm clocks in the rooms would be one suggestion!). And since they don't, we know now to take one with us.
As far as scenery and stops, we thought the Danube Waltz to be the prettiest of our river trips to date. And going from Budapest towards Passau, the scenery became more scenic each day as we approached the hills and gorges of Bavaria.
Clothing is very casual...jeans, sweaters, slacks. And for those worrying about wearing tennis shoes -- we saw as many Europeans in Nikes as American tourists. There is lots of walking on these trips, up and down steep, often slick inclines and over cobblestones -- good support, flat soles with grip, is a must.
Another thing is warm / waterproof coat. On our first trip, we packed according to the high temperature forecast and froze. Pack according to the LOW temperature forecast. Tours are in the morning when temps are at the lowest. To be on deck (with best viewing and experience) wind chill is a factor. Pack a heavier coat than you think you will need. We expected temps the first week of September to be in the 80's (2 weeks before it had been 100). We hit 80 the first day, and 50's - low 60's the rest...add rain / cloudy skies and it felt much cooler.
We had a lower cabin with the half-height window. Actually we liked it very much. The cabin size was good, plenty of storage, and the window allowed good light. One really isn't in the room except to sleep / change clothes. Our room was quiet, we never heard engine noise or anything else, or smell any type of fumes. Often it is hard tell if moving except to glance out a window.
All in all, it was a fantastic trip, one we thoroughly recommend.