My wife has been on an ocean cruise before and been after me to try cruising. I was never very interested in spending time at sea in a floating hotel; I'd much rather be exploring the ports. So when I came across some info on river cruises which indicated more of a focus on the destination rather than the trip, I decided to try it out. I wasn't disappointed.
I had Viking arrange transportation between New York and Budapest (and return from Munich) and all was handled well. Travel info arrived well in advance and I was able to upgrade seating with no problem. Airport transfers were handled very efficiently by Viking. We arrived in Budapest Saturday afternoon. Unfortunately, it was too late to visit the Central Market Hall (closes early on Saturday). In fact, this was one of my few disappointments with the cruise, since the market is not open on Sunday, so we weren't able to visit. Had I realized this when booking, I might have done the cruise in the reverse order. Embarking was straightforward and efficient, and we were quickly settled into a very good cabin. Space was quite adequate, with plenty of room to store all we needed and more. Bathroom was nice with a good shower (plenty of pressure and hot water). Heated floors are a nice touch, and my wife loved the provided toiletries (in fact, we bought some on board form the ship store and she is looking online for others). Safe and small refrigerator provided in the cabin were nice. A large bottle of water was provided as well, and replenished whenever used.
The provided TV content is limited. 9 channels, of which 2 are bow and lounge cameras (both very useful), 3 were cable news channels. Of the remaining, two channels (a US sports and and a NatGeo channel) never had any programing the time we were on board. In addition, the ships active map feature never worked right (stuck in one location), and the itinerary weather function stopped working after the second or third day. The WiFi on board was spotty (had to stand near the door in the stateroom to receive, better in the lounge), but was very slow when it did work, even in port. Other than these minor technical issues, the ship was in excellent shape and very nice.
In our early 50's, my wife and I were definitely near the lower end of the age bracket for this cruise. There were a few in their 30's and 40's, most in the late 50's -70's, with a few in the 80's. The crew reported that there appears to be more younger people, as the average had been in the 70's. As a result, the musical selections for the on board pianist/musician was pretty dated. He was talented and hard working, but dated. If Viking wants to draw more younger patrons, they ned to think about adjusting entertainment accordingly.
As far as dress code goes, I followed the suggestion in the literature to "dress up" a little for the Captain's welcome dinner and wore a jacket. Few others did. The range of dress varied a lot, from jeans to jackets and tie. Having to do it again, I wouldn't likely bring anything more than a button down shirt. Again, I think with a younger crowd it will start to tend that way, which is quite fine with me.
Weather was pretty good for early April. The first few days were short sleeve weather (upper 60's to low 70'sF), allowing time topside or in the aquavit lounge. A little cooler (50's) with rain off and on for 2 days.
The crew was exceptional, never failing to meet anyone's request when asked, and always maintaining a very positive attitude. They seemed to be having a good time, so either they were or were very good actors!. Any minor request we (or others I saw) made was quickly and efficiently addressed.
Food was good, better than I anticipated. Choice of 3 appetizers, entrees and desserts each diner. Generally found something I would like, but if not, the standard steak, chicken or ceaser salad was also available. Chef also provided an amuse bouche before appetizers, which was nice. Crew was very efficient at feeding all 190 people simultaneously for dinner. Dinner service took about 100-120 minutes total. Only issue was that all those people in the dining room, the noise level was high, making it difficult at times to converse. Not sure what could be done about that. Breakfast was open seating over about a 2 hour period, and could also be taken in the aquavit lounge (reduced menu), where it was nice to eat exposed to the elements. bar service was very good. We didn't pay for the extended beverage plan, as we knew we wouldn't drink that much to make it worth while. Beer,soft drinks and wine were provided at lunch and dinner. It was a minor annoyance to pay for soft drinks outside of meals (for example during cocktail time). Coffee, tea and hot chocolate were always available (usually with cookies or pastries) and was well appreciated. Adding soft drinks to this would make it perfect. Since it appeared they used bottled soft drinks instead of fountains, I think it makes that impractical.
Tours in general were handled well. Announcements were made 15 minutes prior to departure, and I think all excursions left on time (within a couple of minutes), which I really appreciate. Buses were very new, comfortable, and well maintained. All of our drivers were excellent and very adept at manuevering in very tight quarters. We found out later that the buses are in general exclusively contracted to Viking, which ensures high quality.
Headset units provided for the tours worked very well (of course many of us had to help some of the more technically challenged to get to the right channel and turn up the volume!). Umbrellas were provided on rainy days, and bottled water for the trip; a nice touch. Upon return to the ship, they often had a cold drink or a snack waiting as you crossed the brow, which was, again, much appreciated.
My only comment on the excursions was that they were usually too short. With a departure of between 8-9 and returning to the ship for lunch, it limited the amount of time at the destinations. Also, I think that was in part to limit the time for those who couldn't keep up. Offering an optional extended tour for those more active that left early and didn't need to return to the ship for lunch could allow for much more time in town, with more walking rather than bus time. Again, with a younger crowd I suspect this could become popular.
I won't go into the relative positives and negatives of all of the ports, but each had there own positives and were worth visiting.