Our trip was the Passage to Eastern Europe consisting of 2 nights in Budapest a 7 night cruise and 1 night in Bucharest.
For those you who want a short review... this was the best cruise we have ever taken!!! The food was 5 star, as well as the service and attentiveness of the entire staff from the captain on down.
For those of you, who would like more details, read on.
Arrival at Budapest: Our flight from Atlanta via Paris was delayed three hours due to a mechanical problem. Once we collected our luggage, the Viking representatives were waiting for us at the arrivals area. We brought our luggage to the waiting busses and took the 40 minute ride to the Budapest Marriott. When we arrived at the hotel, I went to the luggage compartment on the bus and was told by the driver; “Sir, you luggage is no longer your concern, its mine”.
In the hotel lobby, Viking had a reception area set up with our room keys and other documentation relating to the next days itinerary. Once we received our keys, we went to our room, and our luggage was there waiting for us! Make note, all the rooms overlook the Danube River. Seeing that our arrival was so late, we went to bed to recharge our batteries for the things to come.
Budapest: After breakfast, we had a 4 hour tour of the city. Budapest is an old world European city filled with friendly people. After the tour we returned to the hotel and I ventured out on my own to explore the city. Within walking distance of the hotel there is Vaci Street which is closed to vehicles. Here you’ll find cafes, bars, restaurants and boutiques. Also within walking distance, on the way to St. Stephen’s Basilica, there is another pedestrian area that is filled with vendors selling souvenirs, breads, pastries and food. After eating, it was back to the hotel to get ready for the cruise the next day.
Embarkation: In the afternoon, we met at the hotel to be transported to the ship. Upon arrival at the pier, we boarded the ship, surrendered our passports and received our cabin keys. We were escorted to our cabin and when we opened the door our luggage was on the bed. We were invited to a buffet lunch being served in the Aquavit lounge. There were plenty of items to choose from as well as free flowing beer, wine and soft drinks.
Cabin: We were in cabin 331 which is a category A veranda cabin. These cabins are not as large as veranda cabins on ocean going vessels, but they are quite functional. There is ample closet space as well as 8 drawers and shelves in the closet. There are multiple 110v outlets throughout the cabin and a safe. The only con to the cabin is that the mattress was hard. Viking should have put pillow top mattresses in the cabins instead of the 8 inch hard mattress. However Vince, the head of housekeeping went out of his way to provide us with a solution. He had the cabin stewardess place multiple mattress toppers on the bed, and that solved the problem.
Dining: This is where Viking excels. The first night I ordered the New York strip steak prepared medium. I have never been able to get a steak prepared to my liking on the first attempt on any cruise line. Viking is the exception as my steak was perfect! That evening, the Executive Chef asked me how my steak was and told me that all of Vikings meats were rated Prime. There was not a single mediocre meal during our cruise. Some of the offerings were; Beef Wellington, Crusted Grilled Salmon, Veal Osso Buco, Filet Mignon with Tiger Prawns, Blackened Halibut and Lamb Shank. All prepared expertly and seasoned to perfection. The only con to the restaurant is that there is no dress code. It is not uncommon to see people wearing jeans during dinner. One night during dinner I saw a very large woman wearing a skin tight tee shirt (not a pretty picture), a man in jeans and a plaid shirt with both a belt and suspenders and a man wearing the same tattered, rolled up jeans he wore for the past 5 days. This takes something away from the 5 star quality of the restaurant.
Entertainment: During the cruise, Viking brings on locals to entertain us with folkloric music and dance. There are enrichment talks and daily briefings regarding the following day’s tours. Besides that, there is a pianist each night in the lounge.
Tours: Each day starting at 8:30 or 9:00 there is a tour. It could be a city tour, visit to an equestrian center or fishing village. There is always ample free time to shop, explore on your own or nap. Your day can be as full as you want. The local guides were very passionate, knowledgeable and informative.
Disembarkation: On the last day you are asked to have your luggage outside your cabin by 8:00am for pickup and transfer to the hotel. After breakfast we check out and proceed to the waiting buses for transportation to the Bucharest Hilton. The Hilton was a 40 minute ride from the pier, and again, by the time we collected our room keys and got the elevator, our bags were already in our room. That night we walked around in the city, ate in the lounge at the hotel and turned in early as we had a 3:30am wake up call for our trip to the airport.
Our shuttle to the airport left the hotel at 4:30am and the fact that we were heading back to reality set in.
We are already planning a trip to France on Viking in the fall of this year for our anniversary as we know Viking is now our cruise provider of choice.
Closing: You may ask if it’s worth the money. In a word, YES! If you do the math you’ll see there isn’t much (if any) of a difference between a larger cruise line and Viking. Considering the cost of a conventional cruise to Europe would cost approximately $1300pp for a veranda cabin. Then add air, insurance, transfers, drinks and tours and it may cost even more than Viking. The biggest factor for us was that the Danube is a placed we’ve never been and the Aegir only held 190 passengers.
Cant wait to do it again.