Just returned from our first cruise of any type, a river cruise onboard the Viking Njord. We took the Danube Waltz which started in Passau and ended in Budapest. Having been to Europe only one other time back in the early 80's and having a husband that had never been we were excited about the trip, the countries we would visit (Germany, Austria, Slovakia and Hungry) and the tours that were included on this program.
Did this trip meet our very high expectations and our very high level of anticipation: YES and MORE.
Having researched river cruise companies and itineraries for the past 5 years we felt confident in our choice in Viking, not only because of the literature we had received but from the many personal recommendations we had sought out. And in the end Viking delivered in every area.
From the pre-trip packet to our departure everything was beautiful, organized and personalized. The Viking staff made you feel more than welcomed and you felt like you were their top priority. The little details like the welcome note in our room that mentioned things I had written to Viking about before our cruise-pure class!
We cruised with 2 other couples and one of the couples we cruised with had been on 7 or 9 ocean cruises but this too was their first river cruise. We asked the about the comparisons between ocean and river cruises and the one thing that sticks out is their comments over and over about how they never felt like they knew any of the staff on their ocean cruises that is until this cruise. From the Cruise Director, to the waiters to the housekeepers we all were on first name basis from day 1. The term we are here to make this trip special for you sums it up.
Things that impressed us:
City Tour Guides: locals that spoke beautiful English, they were informative, funny and you could tell by their presentations and enthusiasm that they loved their cities and they loved this job! Because of the audivox's/earpieces that Viking provided each of us we never, ever missed a story or a word our guides shared with us. As if we were an audience of one. And for the guides they were able to speak in normal voices and that helped to create a very relaxed tour and pace.
Meals: Every meal was better than the last, the food was outstanding! The presentation each night was simply wonderful. Great selections and variety. Regional foods and standards like steak/chicken and salmon. For the adventuresome eater or the picky eater there was always something. Don't even get me started on dessert-let's just DELICIOUS..... And did I mention complimentary wine and beer with lunch and dinner???? What a nice perk.
Stateroom: I really didn't know what to expect outside of what I had seen on videos and in brochures. At first glance I thought, this is a bit small (we had a Veranda room w/balcony). But once we were in the room and had unpacked 3 large suitcases we realized how functional the room was, how much space we had for clothes/shoes and all the stuff we brought. The suitcases all fit under the bed and we had plenty of room!
The shower was one of the best showers I have ever experienced in my travels, having a powerful and hot shower is so important and this was the best! The flatscreen TV, minifridge and multiple (I counted 3) 110 outlets were huge pluses. The housekeeping staff must work 20 hours a day because our room was turned around 2x a day and I swear there were days were it was refreshed even more. Having been in the hotel business myself (for 10 years) I look at the little touches of service, the comfort of the room and how accommodating the staff is to requests and Viking gets an A++.
Cruise Itinerary: One city after the next was amazing. We had just the right about of time in each city. The tours allowed us to see all the highlights of the city and then in the afternoons we had the option of additional tours or free time. We choose to do free time as we just wanted to go back to the cities and explore more as well as take in the "life of a local" which meant finding a local outdoor cafe and blending in. Only one city wasn't at dock and that was Salzburg but we are so glad that we were able to see that city, it was a highlight of the trip. For this city you bused from Linz (about 2 hours) and it is a beautiful drive. Seeing the Alps, the countryside and the buses were all first rate.
The Little Things:
Umbrellas for all: we only needed these 1 day but how nice to have full sized umbrellas available for all guests. We sure stood out in our groups of red umbrellas, you knew who was with Viking.
Bottled Water: Always available in your cabin (complimentary) and every time you left the ship there was water available. No cost.
Juices/snack: When we returned from tours we were greeted at least 3 different times with little glasses of exotic juices and an little bit of something to taste.
Welcome Dinner and Farewell Dinner: Comfortable and elegant all at the same time. The dress code on the ship is casual and during these dinners all were dressed up but not formal by any means. This casual comfortable/elegance added to the special evening without making it feel stuffy. The food and service was first class every night but on these nights they some how brought it up another notch.
Beds: Comfortable, comfortable and can I say comfortable.
Size of ship: Perfect we had 183 guests on board and we got to know most of them. I think I heard the number of staff was 51 so that is about 3.5 to 1 ratio!
Tours: We had 2 of the 6 of us in our group that had some previous issues with walking and Viking Njord offered a tour group that they called "leisure" and it was perfect for them. We saw everything that all the other groups saw, but just at a slower pace. Tour group sizes seemed to be about 25 ppl each.
Calm Waters: For someone that is prone to seasickness, I brought transdermal patches, Dramamine and pressure point band, and I needed none of them..... Why did I wait so long to do this......
What you see: The tours always gave a great overview of the history of the city and country. The guides were open and honest about political issues in the past and answered every question. They all wanted to share their "cities/countries past and future ". There was never a time were I felt we were waiting on other groups or had to wait in a line, everything went like clock work.
The cities we saw: Passau, Linz, Salzburg, Melk, Durstein, Brataslava and Budapest.
Loved: the 2 days we were cruising down the river during the day. Entering Budapest at night, a sight I will always remember, so thankful our cruise director suggested that we stay up for that!
Pillows (minor but they really could use either more per room or larger ones).
WiFi: don't count on it because it is not reliable but to be honest being unplugged for 8 days really was a vacation.
Easter: not the best time to travel in Europe if you are a shopper as stores are closed Thursday-Monday. Good thing is that most restaurants and tours were less crowded.
Exercise equipment: wish they had had a treadmill or bike just something, not a full gym but something like that. If they ever design a new layout for the longship I think a small spa with massages would be nice esp. after a long flight and tours.
Who should take this cruise: Anyone with a love of history, anyone that wants to be part of a more intimate group of travelers*, foodies, experienced to limited experience travelers. Groups of friends. Anniversary trips. Parents with older children.
Who shouldn't take this cruise: we did have a young girl on this trip but there is really no activities outside of the tours that would interest young children/teens the trips are geared to more of an adult crowd. If you need constant entertainment in the form of casino's or nightclub show's this is not the cruise for you. In the evenings we did have local entertainment, some game nights which were perfect for us. You are usually pretty tired after a day of touring and enjoying 3 wonderful meals so bedtime was a welcomed event. Tours usually started at 8:30am each day.
On this cruise we saw couples, we saw families and groups of friends on our cruise.
What I wished we had done: The Pre trip, but our schedule did not permit it. Next time.
Transfers: Fantastic, on time and helpful. The Budapest airport at 6am was a bit dicey with multiple groups checking in and few desks open to help but we made it in plenty of time. I do think the Viking rep should have stayed a bit longer with the group to make sure most of us got through it ok.
*You really don't have to be a social butterfly to be on this smaller type of cruise if that isn't in your nature. There are no forced group activities, you can be as much a part of the cruise as you want or as independent as you want.
Would we do this again: no question.......just need to figure out when and where!