The Embla is one of Vikings newest cruise ships, known as 'long boats' Our Embla cruise was from Budapest to Romania (billed as "Budapest to Bucharest", but not strictly speaking to Bucharest itself since it is inland). This portion of the Danube is less developed than its upper reaches and this cruise was leisurely, but not packed with memorable experiences. Rather, the pleasure was in getting to know other passengers, in becoming acquainted with the crew, and in spending time together, something our every day lives does not always permit.
Our precruise hotel was the Budapest Le Meridien. I've reviewed this hotel for Trip Advisor and will not go into detail here other than to note that it was excellent and was about four blocks from where the ship docked so we were able to walk to the ship (baggage was transferred by Viking). We arrived early because my partner had heard that a glass blowing class was being offered on board and she wanted to ensure a place for herself. There was no class (the crew explained that the glass blowing class was offered only on the longer cruises offered up river) so we had some lunch on the glassed in after deck and then walked around Budapest's pedestrian mall for a while. We boarded in the later afternoon and the ship departed around dark. We had a truly spectacular sail down the river through Budapest with the lights along the river providing a wonderful display (there is also a laser show from the roof of one of the buildings).
The Embla is a very well designed ship that offers efficient public spaces and cabins, although both are quite small. There was a total passenger group of less than 200 and one seating only for dinner. A buffet is offered on the after deck for lunch and dinner, but essentially the same food is provided at both locations. The Embla is a new ship and so everything is fresh and functions very well. Cabins are of a modern design, although at times the design is a little too cunning for its own good. It took a day or two, for example, to figure out how to use the shower without getting water all over the floor (the trick: close the doors after entering the shower and bring them together simultaneously to make a tight seal. The shower has two levers, one an off on with one below it to regulate heat. Set the heat dial to the preferred level and then just turn the water on after closing the doors).
Service on the Embla was superb and actually better than on better ocean cruise lines. The passenger group is small and it was very easy to get to know the crew as individuals, which I believe resulted in better service.. My partner's birthday was just before cruise departure. The Maitre D independently found out about that and approached me the first night of the cruise to offer her a cake in celebration. We found this very thoughtful and symbolic of the level and type of service offered by the Embla crew.
Dinner is provided with table service. Lunch offers a buffet with served entrée options. Breakfast was buffet but pancakes were available on order. All of the food was excellent. Wine was included at both lunch and dinner. There was one red and one white choice, both very nice Hungarian wines, with more expensive options available for purchase by the glass. Beer and whiskey were also available.
There were very few on board activities and limited shore excursions. Generally there was a single excursion included in the cost each day with optional excursions at some stops. As this cruise was off the beaten path few of the ports were noteworthy visits for positive reasons. Vukovar in Croatia still suffers from the results of the wars in the 1990s, has war damage in many buildings, and has a 40 percent unemployment rate. Belgrade, once the capital of Yugoslavia, remains stunted by the war and was generally shabby. Bulgaria and Romania were much more interesting.
Disembarkation was handled smoothly via a motor coach trip to Bucharest. We stayed at the Radisson Blu in Bucharest, which I also reviewed on Trip Advisor. In general embarkation was handled much more smoothly than debarkation. The Viking staff in Bucharest seemed disinterested and lacked knowledge. There was little information provided about the process of getting from the hotel to the airport and if we had not proactively made sure our luggage was in the lobby and that we had arrived well ahead of time I am not sure that we would have caught the bus to the airport. As an example, we paid for room service for breakfast because there was no information provided that we saw concerning a bag breakfast provided by the hotel.
In summary, we really enjoyed our vacation on the Embla and are looking forward to another Viking cruise on another itinerary another time.