Viking Prestige Cruise Review by Snorre the Sage: A Viking on the Danube
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A Viking on the Danube
We took the Danube Waltz cruise on the Viking Prestige from Budapest to Passau. It was our first river cruise and, overall, we enjoyed the experience. On the upside, the ship was immaculate. It was modern, comfortable and well fitted out. Our stateroom was just the right size for the time we spent in it, with good storage, a well designed, compact bathroom and, as we were on the top deck, good views out. We were glad to have the big sliding French door when cruising in the daytime. As someone who hates loud air conditioning I was pleasantly surprised to find that it was virtually silent. It really was useful in the heat of eastern Europe in July. Our stateroom was about half way along the deck and because the ship has a hybrid propulsion system, we noticed almost no noise or vibration when sailing. As a lot of the cruising on this trip is done at night, this was a real boon.
The food and drink were excellent. We had read reviews which said that the wine which comes as part of More the ticket price was not up to scratch, but we know a bottle of good red and we found the house red to be very drinkable. We had thought of picking up some local wine (Viking don’t charge corkage) but didn’t feel the need. I also tried the house white, which was crisp and refreshing. There was plenty to eat and it was never less than excellent. The chef and maitre d’ were constantly checking that everything was OK (and topping up our glasses!), as were the waiters. Service was friendly and accommodating. We liked the fact that dishes influenced by local cuisine and ingredients were the norm. The culinary highlight was a “Taste of Austria” evening, when our Austrian chef shared what must have been most of the signature dishes from his homeland. Exactly how he and his team produced so much variety to such a high standard from a river cruiser’s galley wasn’t clear but they did it with panache.
Having worked with some top performing teams, I can honestly say that the crew of the Viking Prestige were one of the best I have encountered. Nothing was too much trouble, information was presented clearly when it was needed, help was on hand when necessary, and we were never in any doubt that a trouble free, enjoyable and fun experience for the passengers was the goal. The Cruise Director was particularly impressive. On one occasion we were in a cafe in Salzburg when a minor problem arose. The Cruise Director appeared as if from nowhere and sorted it, even though there was nothing to identify us as his passengers. The cruise was my wife’s 60th birthday treat but we hadn’t told the crew. On the final evening the maitre d’ and some of his staff appeared at our table with a cake and sang happy birthday. We are still trying to work out how they knew it was us in a full restaurant.
We also enjoyed the onboard lectures, the opportunity to visit the bridge and learn about navigation on the Danube and, of course, the many wonderful towns and cities we visited. The Cruise Director was a professional violinist when not cruise directing. On the final night he gave a great recital with the onboard pianist. I don’t think this is guaranteed on every Viking cruise but it shows how much the crew put their personalities into their work, which makes them stand out from the crowd.
There were some downsides too. A minor niggle was that the public areas have background music playing all the time. There is a good variety of styles and no muzak, only original artists. Even so, it’s a bit much, especially when it is even playing in the library. You would think they could leave you to read in peace.
More fundamentally, we would have liked more daylight cruising. To be fair to Viking, the reaches of the Danube which connect Germany with Hungary are not as scenic as, say, parts of the Rhine. On this cruise you need to see the ship mainly as a floating hotel which takes you overnight to a fresh destination, rather than as a platform for watching the countryside go by. The daylight cruise through the Wachau Valley was beautiful, and we woke very early on the way to Passau and were delighted by the scenery - but that was one bit of information the crew hadn’t given us, so most people missed it.
The other big negative for us turned out to be the guided tours. You can’t fault either the choice of places to visit (well OK, Heroes’ Square in Budapest and the embassy quarter in Bratislava must mean more to locals than to visitors, but otherwise the choice was good), nor the quality of the local guides. The Quiet Vox earpiece system meant you could always hear the guides (except when interference from other guides blocked the signal and your guide wouldn’t change channel, which happened several times). It was just that the groups were too large and often got entangled with other groups, including from other Viking ships. One American passenger said that they felt that they were being “herded” and that summed it up very well. We ended up using the guides for orientation, then leaving the group and making our own discoveries, which worked well. Meeting points and times were always clear, so doing your own thing was not a problem. The concierge was very helpful if you wanted to operate independently, but Viking should review group sizes,as the guides were always worth hearing.
Many reviewers have also complained about “rafting” - when you wake in the morning to find that the view from your cabin window is of someone else’s cabin on a vessel moored next to yours. We experienced this several times. It is irritating having to keep your curtains drawn in the daytime but, on the other hand, moorings on the Danube are apparently expensive and hard to secure and Viking have the best. Having seen the out-of-centre pitches used by some other firms, and even one ship which had to moor on the opposite side after dropping their passengers in Dürnstein, we felt that rafting is a price worth paying - and you can still enjoy the view from the sun deck, where the crew will be happy to serve you a cold beer.
Would we go again? Maybe, but on a cruise with more daylight sailing, and knowing that we would want to be more independent of the guided tours unless the group sizes shrink. If we did go again, we would definitely go with Viking. The onboard experience was excellent, we flew with BA not a budget airline, and the paid excursions seem to have been well regarded by those who went on them, so we felt that the cruise was good value for money, given the quality of the service and the ship. Less
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