Background: My husband and I have done one other river cruise – Viking’s Imperial Jewels of China which was excellent. We have been on 18 ocean cruises. We are in our middle 60’s, very active and avid walkers.
Itinerary: The cities of Budapest and Bucharest were amazing. The other ports in between were not very exciting or interesting. If I had it to do over - I would save this itinerary until after I’d cruised the more scenic rivers in Europe. The included excursions in Budapest and Bucharest were well done. Viking did a good job with their excursions in the smaller ports under the circumstances but there were several ports that we felt were not worth getting off the boat for.
Boat: The Embla was beautiful and in excellent condition. The Aquavit Lounge and the other public rooms and areas were comfortable. The dining room was lovely but very noisy and as others on this board have suggested – we tried to get a table at either end of the dining room where the noise level was not so high. Wi-fi worked well throughout the ship in the public rooms. We were in cabin D208 which was fairly close to reception but I could only get a signal by our door and in the bathroom. The two coffee/tea/cookie stations were very convenient. In addition to oatmeal and double chocolate cookies, the pastry chef would also feature “local” cookies which were excellent. There were ice machines on each floor.
Cabin: Our French Balcony stateroom was small – tiny compared to ocean cruise ship cabins – but quite comfortable and had plenty of storage. I’m a bath person and dreaded having only a shower during the cruise but the shower was great. The shower was a reasonable size and had glass doors instead of flimsy shower curtains. The water pressure was excellent and we never ran out of hot water. We found the beds quite comfortable and we enjoyed the in-room entertainment system with on-demand movies, TV shows and music. The 110 volt outlets at the nightstands allowed us to easily recharge our electronics. There is also a 110 outlet by the sliding glass door to plug in a hairdryer or curling iron. I’m always warm so I was impressed at how well I was able to control the temperature in our room. While I’m sure everyone else had their heaters on – I was able to turn on the a/c and set the temperature to a comfortable 68 degrees.
Food: Food is very subjective. We are good, happy and not picky eaters. The food was pretty good but not great. The dinner menu always included 3 entrees – one meat, one fish and one vegetarian dish in addition to the always available items of salmon (very good), steak (very good) and chicken breast. We were impressed by the selection and quality of the appetizers each night. There were a total of 4 to choose from. There were several nights when we would have liked to order more than one but there just did not seem to be enough time for the wait staff to handle multiple first courses. The one occasion my DH did order 2 appetizers – the second one was never delivered. Rather than keep the rest of our table waiting – we ordered only one each night. Dinner took a full 2 to 2 ½ hours every night. Service was very slow the first four days but improved by the end of the cruise. The soups (except for the New England Clam Chowder and Chili) – were very good. We enjoyed them especially for lunch in the Aquavit Lounge. There was a pasta station each day for lunch in the dining room along with a salad bar and several miscellaneous items like pre-made sandwiches. There was also a menu for breakfast and lunch that you could order from in addition to the buffets. The breakfast buffet featured an egg station that you could custom order eggs and omelets from. There was always bacon, different kinds of sausage, cereal, breads and fresh fruit available.
Entertainment: I believe 5 out of 8 days/nights we were treated to folkloric shows both on board the boat and on shore. On several nights we had lectures and not very interesting ones at that. Really? I know the average age of the passengers was over 70 but there must be other forms of entertainment available for us “age-challenged” passengers. The one night we played Name That Tune was great fun. The pianist was excellent and had a great voice but he was under-utilized throughout the trip.
Hotels: The hotels Viking used were excellent. The Budapest Marriott Hotel and the Bucharest Radisson Blu were beautiful and within walking distance or metro to many attractions. The included breakfasts were wonderful with many choices.
Miscellaneous: The staff were friendly and very accommodating. Our cabin steward did a great job. As previously mentioned, the dining room staff got off to a really slow start but improved as the cruise progressed. Since this was the first cruise of the season for the Embla, it was understandable that there was a learning curve.