We were first time cruisers, first time winter in Europe, first time to Hungary, Austria or Germany. If you love Christmas, like we do, you will be in heaven.
First, let me say we were very fortunate- the weather was 35-40 every day, no snow, no sleet, no rain, no ice. The entire itinerary ran on schedule, and the river behaved. There were no stomach bugs, no lost luggage or missed flights, no bus-instead-of-river substitutions.
Overall- I am not sure the cruising experience is for me. I wanted a whole lot more time in the cities/ towns. I was very happy we did the Budapest pre-extension. Wandering around for hours exploring neighborhoods, markets, churches and shops into the nighttime is for me. Forced conversation with strangers on a ship cruising on the river all night with nothing to do s not for me. We were very fortunate to become very friendly with one other couple and would definitely travel with them again. My husband loved the cruise experience, so I would perhaps do another river in the future if we had companions to go with.
That being said, the ship was very attractive and comfortable. The food and service good. We were on the third floor, which I recommend as people complained about cabins above them (noise).
Negative- our ship concierge that week was a pill. No one liked her. There is far too much ship time.Going through locks is excruciatingly boring. I suppose the ship time may be nicer in the warm weather. The entertainment is OK. The evenings are a bore.An exception was a gypsy violinist and his band the second night.
1. Budapest: Viking was waiting for us at the airport and immediately took us to the Budapest Hilton. They had their own concierge in the lobby. Hotel was phenomenal, city was wonderful. Be sue to make it to a thermal spring bath. A highlight for me was mass at Matthias Church with the organ and choir- magnificent. Christmas Market: so-so. Buy paprika, painted eggs or marzipan and brandy- skip everything else. Issue with Viking: tour guide was boring and only did the same side as our pre extension- Buda. Was disappointed they did not take us to Pest. Make your own tour arrangements and see Pest. The transport to and check in at the ship was a breeze.
2. Vienna: my favorite. Christmas markets were beautiful and good.Tour guide was very good.We got to see the Lippizaner Stallions (for free) up close. Demel has strudel to die for. Shopped in the Swarovsky flagship store. The whole town is beautifully decorated (chandeliers down the middle of one street). Issue with Viking- none.
3. Melk- adorable town with some nice store.Tour guide- local young woman who grew up there and attended the abbey school. Phenomenal, Vatican- worthy abbey. If you've been to the vatican you'll understand.If you haven't, Melk is on that scale. Plus: we walked to and from the ship to the town. Negative: not enough time!
4. Passau: Now we are onto the real German Markets. It will not disappoint! Lovely picture postcard town, good guide, nice walking tour. We were greeted by singing school children. Plus: lots of shops outside the market, even a mall. Very walkable. Negative: not enough time!
5. Regensburg: A favorite of both of us. Another picture postcard town and fabulous markets.Good guide. We liked the foods here the best. Wursts and desserts to die for! Be sure to stop at the Weissbrauhaus of Regensburg. It's a great pub-style place with really nice atmosphere and terrific food and staff. Plus: nice antique and other little interesting shops. Negative- not enough time.
6. Nuremberg: the grandaddy of em all Christmas Market we almost didn't get to see. I thought there'd be a riot when the tour director announced we'd get to the market MAYBE if we had time, for about 1.5 hrs in late afternoon. They put priority on a boring (and I love tours) castle tour of a bland rebuilt castle like structure. Melk Abbey it is NOT.Skip it and take a cab to the market. The director managed to get a bus for us to the market that morning for about 1.5 hrs. Thank goodness- it was uncrowded and we managed to get some great stuff. When we returned in the afternoon, it was so packed we could barely move.
Deprature: Note to self: never agree to a 4 am departure again. There is no live help at the airport in the middle of the night, and the line was out the door. Tedious. The Viking people stayed with us until we were checked in.They really provide very good service.
So, I'd recommend the cruise, with Viking, on Bragi, on Danube, to see Christmas Markets. Myself, I'd rather a land tour, but would perhaps do a different river for the Markets if we were traveling with friends.