22 April to 02 May 2011
Nuremberg to Budapest
This was a very different "cruise" for us - our first river cruise, after seventy-some ocean cruises. We had discussed this type of cruise for some time, and after perusing many web-sites, brochures, and travel writings, we decided to choose Viking River Cruise. The itinerary would be their Romantic Danube, from Nuremberg to Budapest. We opted for Viking's air-inclusive and a two night post-cruise hotel package, in Budapest, which also included complimentary wine at dinner.
Viking was most receptive and attentive to answering the many questions from a couple of neophytes. Their Customer Relations staff was probably the easiest we have ever found to deal with. As an example, after we sent in our original deposit, which went to their Woodland Hills, CA office, we were surprised to see a "Foreign Transaction Fee" charge on our credit card. Although Viking's U.S. offices are in California, the Company is based in Basel, Switzerland, and payments are converted to Swiss francs. We discovered this fact when we contacted their Customer Relations Department, to inquire as to why the fee was charged. It was an easy matter to have the Foreign Transaction fee refunded to us and we made subsequent payments with our "travel" credit card which does not incur Foreign Transaction Fees.
Our flights to Europe were via Lufthansa Airlines (Boston to Munich to Nuremberg). This was another "first", flying Lufthansa. The flight and service were excellent, in spite of the fact that one of us does not tolerate long flights very well. The large selection of viewing and listening entertainment helped in the regard, along with the complimentary wine and cognac. Upon arrival at the Nuremberg Airport, there were Viking representatives waiting for us, to take us to the ship (yes, they do refer to them as "ships").
Upon arrival at ship we were asked to "check in", which involved going to front desk handing in our passports and receiving our cabin key-cards. We were then directed to the lounge where there was a buffet lunch. There was then an announcement that cabins were ready for occupancy. We were met at front desk and escorted to our cabin, by our Cabin Steward. Viking also provided a shuttle into town for those interested. We opted to walk along the river path to take in the scenery and enjoy the nice weather.
The Embarkation and Safety Briefing was held in the Viking Lounge at 18:15, right in the middle of the Cocktail Hour (pretty sneaky, but everyone was there). So far, everything was fine - how long would this last? The Viking Lounge was the venue for each evening's Cocktail "Hour" (which was usually scheduled for 1 ½ hours), and was also the post dinner entertainment venue, and where various lectures were held.
The Viking Legend has three passenger decks (Main Deck, Middle Deck and Upper deck) and a Sun Deck. Cabin 208 was mid-ship on Middle Deck, which we found to be a very comfortable and convenient location, and one we would choose again. All the cabins on the Legend (except the two Suites) are same size (155 or 170 sq. ft. depending if one believes the brochure, or web-site); there are also five Single cabins (120 sq. ft) we did not get to see any of these personally.
While this is a smaller size than we usually book it worked out to be more than adequate. The cabins on Middle and Upper Decks all have French Balconies, with sliding doors, which allow for a roomier "feel". The bathrooms were also adequately sized. We had more than enough storage space for all our clothes and "stuff". No need to remove the life jackets, extra pillows or blankets from the closet shelves and stuff them under the bed. The cabins on Main Deck had windows which were only slightly (1-2 ft.) above the water line. Other than that, they were identical to those on the other decks.
All cabins have a 26 inch TV, refrigerator, telephone, safe, hair dryer, and air conditioning/heater controls. The beds were full hotel style beds (not pull-outs) and very comfortable. They are high enough off the floor to allow for storage of most any size suitcase. Our Cabin Steward was outstanding - very friendly and most efficient.
The Viking Restaurant, located on Middle Deck was the primary dining venue for breakfast, lunch and dinner. At breakfast and lunch there was also some additional limited "Cafe" buffet offerings in the Viking Lounge. There was also an area outside the Viking Lounge (on Upper Deck) that had coffee, tea, and juices available around the clock (usually some delicious pastries also).
At breakfast there was buffet set out in the Viking Restaurant as well as additional items (eggs to order, omelets, Eggs Benedict) available from wait-staff. Anything on the buffet could also be ordered from the wait-staff. They also served fruit smoothies and other beverages each morning at the tables.
At lunch in the Viking Restaurant there was a buffet that had salads, some sandwiches, a pasta dish, cheese plates, and fruit selections. Available from wait-staff were a pre-selected appetizer, a soup, choice of two entrees, and desserts. Also the wait-staff would serve you items from the buffet, if requested, and beverages.
There was no buffet at dinner time, only service in the Viking Restaurant (single seating). This consisted of appetizers on the table (family style), starter course, soup course, choice from two entrees (usually one fish, one meat), and dessert. Of course the aforementioned complimentary wine (choice of red or white) was liberally poured, and refilled, by the attentive wait-staff. We found the wines of very good caliber. There was also a "stand-by" menu available each evening (chicken or salmon, unless one of them was on the featured menu, then a different fish or meat was available). Wait-staff did circulate about the restaurant with "seconds" (most if not every evening) in case anyone was still hungry.
Each day there was at least one, sometimes more, included excursion. On some days there were also optional (price-added) excursions. Each passenger was assigned a wire-less receiver and ear-piece to wear whilst on excursions. The local guides on the excursions wore the transmitters so that each group would only hear their guide's commentary. This worked extremely well, especially for those who wished to separate from the group a bit to take photos. They could get their photo and still hear the commentary, as long as they did not stray too far afield. Each guest could set their own volume preference and did not have to suffer the crowding immediately around the guide. When one returned to their cabin they needed only to place the receiver unit in its charger, and they were ready for the next excursion. We did all of the included excursions and a few of the optional ones; almost all were excellent and worthwhile (one guide was mediocre and one bordered on poor). Each guest chose whom they wanted to tour with, and each time there was one or two groups that were designated as "moderately paced". Some of the walking tours did require extensive walking, but accommodations could be made if the ship staff was alerted beforehand.
For brevity's sake here, we will not go into detail on the excursions.
There is no theater on board the Legend. The main entertainment venue is the Viking Lounge. Each evening during the Cocktail Hour and most evenings after dinner there was an excellent keyboardist playing there. On a few evenings there was local entertainment brought on board. Of course there was always television, and there is a Library on board which also has a number of board games available. It appeared that most opted for the lounge, and we enjoyed many nice conversations over drinks and snacks.
Another form of "entertainment" was to go up on the Sky Deck and watch as we passed under some of the many bridges (some quite low), or passed through some of the many locks on the river. Some of the bridges are so low that the wheelhouse has to be lowered (it is on a hydraulically controlled platform. Most times one could also go up and chat with whoever was in the wheelhouse, unless it was the Captain who spoke no/very little English.
We were never bored or at a loss for something to do. Another nice aspect of this cruise was the paucity of announcements. Information was relayed in a timely manner, when necessary, but there were not myriad announcements and no "reminders" for Bingo or Art Auctions.
One aspect where Viking really has their act together is Service. We mentioned their pre-cruise availability and accommodation. Their on-board service and logistical operations are excellent and beyond reproach. Something as important as tracking who was on-board, or not, was easily accomplished. Whenever we left the ship, we turned in our cabin key-card and received a day-pass; when we returned to the ship, the process was reversed. Every request was answered immediately or within a most reasonable time-frame. We were amazed at how it seemed that everyone had more than one job to do, and everyone was helping out wherever needed. There may have been some "master plan" directing all this, but it was not discernible. Everything just "worked"; no one ever seemed grumpy, and everyone was approachable. Even the guys delivering that entire amount of luggage by hand (three long decks - no elevators or carts) seemed to be having a good time.
As mentioned earlier, we opted for a two night post-cruise stay. Viking booked us into the Hilton Budapest, which is located on the Castle Hill of Buda, immediately adjacent to the famous Fisherman's Bastion, and directly across the river from the Parliament Building. The Castle Hill area is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Here you will find many shops, coffee houses, restaurants, museums within easy walking distance of each other, and our hotel was just about in the middle of all this. The main (high ticket) shopping, the business district, the City Market, and late-night clubs are to be found on the Pest side of the river, which is very easy to reach, via the Chain Bridge. We spent time on both sides of the river and were extremely happy with our hotel's location. The accommodations and service were also top-notch.
We enjoyed this cruise very much, and are looking to choose our next itinerary, most likely on Viking River Cruises, who has four new ships coming out over the next year, or so. They are also anticipating some additional ones beyond that time -frame.
We really enjoyed the ability to just stroll off the ship (usually right in/near the center of town) and wander about.