Our cruise started with bus tours even before arriving at the port of Giurgiu to board the ship. Each day included more bussing, sometimes 1 1/2 hours to get to the site(s) selected for the day's visit. Upon arrival we were given very limited free time to use the restroom, take photos and possibly shop. I felt as if we were cattle being herded on and off the bus in order to change locations for a repeat of the previous stop. However, the tour guides and drivers were very knowledgable, pleasant and helpful. We traveled in 5 countries and needed 5 currencies, however I was only guided to an ATM one time! Many of our tour guides and drivers did not get a gratuity from me because I only had large US or Euro notes and no local change. Viking was no help on the currency matter and in my mind is remiss for not having some funds on hand to assist the passenger on this matter. Viking's corporate position on this matter seems to be it is the passenger's problem, not ours. They encourage us to tip but provide no assistance in changing small amounts of local currency. Viking should have a small amount of local currency available for passengers at each port. Electronically they could monitor and limit each passenger to something like 20 euros, including coins, each day. One of the last days I was finally able to change, on board, a 50 euro note for a 20, 2 10's and 2 5's. Nothing smaller and therefore again no tips for drivers and tour guides. We had lunch on our tours several times as Viking arranged stops with food, music, dancing, demonstrations, etc. At those stops were were again expected to tip, but no local or small denomination euros were available. We had previously used all of our change including US dollars and/or euros and finally resorted to the few US quarters my wife had left in her purse! Viking is economically hurting their tour contractors as well as their onboard staff by not having some form of ATM available. Viking corporate management is very aloof on this matter!!
The busses used were modern and nice; the rides were often quite long and boring. For the Prague extension we had a 9 hour bus ride from Budapest which included 2 stops. I feel that there should have been an option of a train or plane for this connection. Upon arriving in Prague we were housed in the Corinthia Prague, a very nice hotel, but not close to the city center. Transit busses (more bussing!) ran every hour but we did not enjoy the city center in the same manner as if we were housed there. This hotel was quite remote and not in an area with a multitude of local restaurants from which to choose. This is a critical issue and limited our enjoyment of Prague.
On board Embla we were quite pleased. Our bathroom had a distinct sewer odor, the bathroom door squeaked and banged back and forth several nights and it was impossible to shower without getting the bathroom floor wet. Our cabin(235) attendant was very responsive in keeping us clean and nice, the dining room staff were wonderful and the staff at the business/tour desk and the concierge were always ready to assist. The wines served were marginal, the coffee lukewarm and flavorless and the food was very bland. Not a 5 star experience! Each meal was nicely presented and served, just very bland. On 2 occasions I opted for the New York Steak which was stringy, gristly and tough; the provided knife made it a battle to cut a piece to eat. However, we did not let the mediocre food ruin our trip; food and beverage was plentiful and some dishes were spectacular. Breakfast was probably the best meal with the exception of the undercooked and limp bacon presented each day.
The trip on day 7(?) in Kalocsa, Hungary was a mostly a waste. The traditional Puszta horsemanship performance was, at best, marginal. Here, again, the locals wanted to be tipped and made many items available for purchase. Viking seems to be intent on focusing our shopping on businesses they have preselected rather on giving us time to shop in the various areas that we have visited.
My overall impression of this trip is 3 of 5 stars. The ship is nice, the staff wonderful, the food marginal and the side trips tedious. I will not recommend this trip to anyone as I feel Viking management is aware of these issues that I have identified and is aloof and unwilling to make responsible changes.