Viking Embla Cruise Review by oaklandgirl: Know Before You Go
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Know Before You Go
First things first: I was traveling with my 82-year-old mother and 18-year-old daughter (I'm 50). We are all very experienced and fairly independent travelers but decided to go on our second cruise (our first was with Seabourn two years ago) in part because my mother has a hard time walking long distances and in part because the itinerary of this particular cruise would take us places we had never been and probably wouldn't go alone.
The best thing about this cruise was in fact that itinerary, taking us to places in Romania, Bulgaria, Serbia, and Croatia like Belogradshick, Veliko Tarnovo, Arabanasi, Belgrade, and Vukovar. We ended up in Budapest, an absolutely fabulous city where we would happily have spent several more days.
The least good thing about the cruise was the way it was structured but that's why I titled this review "know before you go" because our experiences definitely aren't a knock on Viking per se. We just were unprepared for the More dock-get-on-a-bus-go-on-a-tour-get-back-on-a-bus-get-back-on-the-boat daily grind, the lack of independence, and the forced togetherness both of the tours and the evenings. The rooms are great, the staff amazingly pleasant, efficient, and accommodating, and the food mostly quite good. But the group of people traveling -- mostly people between about 55 and 70 in couples or small groups, mostly from the US but almost all English-speaking, mostly not particularly curious or well educated about the history of the areas we were traveling in, and mostly people who don't do a lot of independent traveling -- were not really our speed and the traveling in a herd was not something we would ever choose to do again. Because the group was almost exclusively the 55 to 70 set, it also just wasn't the right trip for three generations to take together. So ... know that's the deal before you go. Unlike the Seabourn cruise we took, Viking doesn't publish when you'll arrive in various ports so its impossible to book independent tours. Also unlike Seabourn, there just aren't a lot of alternatives to being together in the lounge and the main restaurant because there just isn't a lot of other public space.
If you do choose to go on this trip, here are a couple tips: 1) bring mosquito repellant because you are, after all on a river; 2) get a little bit of each local currency from your bank at home before you go in small denominations because there isn't a lot of opportunity to change money and not everywhere takes Euros or dollars; 3) have a lot of Euro coins for tips for tour guides and drivers; 4) do some reading about where you're going because the Viking folks aren't great at any real history and what they do share is pretty cheerful (as opposed to the real stories of these places that are pretty dark); 5) learn how to say hello and thank you in the languages of the countries you're visiting, as just these two words will go a long way; and 6) take every possible opportunity to go out and walk in the ports when you aren't scheduled to be somewhere. If you're traveling with someone who has a hard time with stairs or with walking distances, also know that Viking is really not set up for that ... several of the tour guides were really insensitive to my mother's needs and just getting up the sometimes quite steep gang planks and up the high steps of the buses was a real challenge most days. Finally, spend your day in Vukovar visiting the local museum and walking around town rather than going on the pretty dreadful trips to Osejik and a rural fisherman's home-turned-crap shack. The museum is fabulous (and not listed anywhere!). Less
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