We just got back from our Grand European Tour from August 10 - 24 starting in Budapest. I think it was a good decision to begin in Budapest because we had almost 2 complete days to enjoy the city. We arrived at 10AM and were in our cabin at noon. At the end of the cruise we might have been too exhausted to appreciate this beautiful city, am only sorry we didn't arrive a couple of days early. The weather was quite warm, almost 90F, but after Budapest the temperature dropped considerably and it was chilly with little sun and rain in several places. I think the itinerary was excellent and each city or town was different and had its special charm. The places I enjoyed the most were Budapest, Vienna, Regensburg and Bamburg. The only places that disappointed were Wurzburg and Cologne. probably because I expected more.
Viking does an excellent job of balancing the itinerary so that there are early starts on tours interspersed with later starts on others. The tour guides were very knowledgeable, informative, and personable. However, after a few tours it is hard not to confuse one place with another and maintain interest. I am a history lover and a former educator, but I did find myself getting "toured out." That was my problem, definitely not Viking's. The service provided was outstanding in all respects. Kudos to the entire staff who work hard to accommodate you. Jazmina in the restaurant and Johnny on the Aquavit Terrace were wonderful, as well as our stewardess, Michaela. The stateroom was tiny, but well laid out so with a little organization two people can manage to fit. Unfortunately, my husband fell ill and missed several days of the cruise and I was tempted to take a blanket and sleep in the lounge. Being on the lowest deck was fine, especially since in several ports there are ships stacked next to each other and there is no view. The food was hit or miss. Breakfast was very good, Norwegian smoked salmon daily with bagels and yummy pastries were part of the offerings. We rarely had lunch, and dinner good be quite good but also quite lacking. The chef tries to make very sophisticated dishes that at times did not work. The only incident that was annoying was at the end of the cruise. We had a 10:10 AM departure from Amsterdam and we had been scheduled to depart the ship at 6AM. Viking refused to change anyone's departure time so with another couple we asked for a mini van to go to the airport. Constantin, the concierge, said it would cost 45 euros for the four of us (not for each couple). I had him repeat this several times to make sure there was no confusion, but when we got to the airport after dropping off the other couple at KLM we proceeded to United, where when paying the driver he wanted $70 euros. We refused to pay the difference and since the transfer had been arranged by Viking and this was the taxi company they always use we told the cabby to complain to the Baldur. We did report this to the Viking representative at the airport and also called the company yesterday to tell them about it.
Now why did I say "not my cup of tea"? This was our first river cruise and have only done two ocean cruises to Alaska and to the Mediterranean years ago on what was Renaissance and is now Oceania. We have always traveled to Europe independently organizing the itineraries on our own and having done the river cruise we realize that group travel is not for us, it is too regimented as far as meals, tours, etc. Planning a European trip requires a lot of exhaustive research, but that is definitely our preference. Having said that, I would definitely recommend Viking and this itinerary to anyone who wants to do a river cruise and leave the planning to others. Last, but not least, we were fortunately in that there were no problems with water levels or lock break downs which seems to be a fairly common occurrence. This was causing me a lot of stress before the trip worrying about whether our cruise would turn into a bus tour, another reason why I would not repeat this experience.