We booked our Grand European cruise directly through the cruise line and found their reps professional, efficient, helpful and truly interested in our enjoying our experience. Additionally, the website and communications via email and postal service were useful and timely. As soon as we booked our cruise (months in advance), we received our itinerary, books about the areas we would cruise, and other information to make it easy for us to plan and pack.
We arranged our own air travel and hotels pre and post cruising. For three days preceding our departure from Amsterdam, we stayed in the Marriott, Museum District, in downtown Amsterdam where we overlooked the main street and its parallel canal. We boarded the Viking Sky early in the afternoon and settled in at our leisure. Although the cabin was small, we managed to unpack and arrange our daily must-haves in the closet and cabinet (which also held a safe). We had a nice size bathroom with shower. We loved our approximately 4'X 7' sliding windows that almost filled the side of our cabin, adding light and air circulation on balmy days and nights. We REALLY LOVED that no smoking was allowed anywhere inside the ship. Our cabin steward was attentive and our living quarters remained tidy, quiet, and comfortable.
Meals were delicious and beautifully presented. Despite options for breakfast and lunch in the lounge, we ate all meals in the dining room, where meals were served, free seating, for about an hour and a half for each meal. Compared to American standards, servings were small, but meals were very well balanced and were certainly adequate. Double entrees or sides could be ordered if desired. In the evening, the dining room was rather crowded, but the wait staff were eager to assist or to rearrange as requested. In fact, the chef, (who let a group accompany him to the Budapest nachtmarkt to buy some special items!) the maitre d, and all servers were were friendly and jovial- we had lots of laughs!
Much of our cruising was done late afternoons and through the night. Daily walking tours were lead by local guides contracted by Viking; tours were rated 1 to 5 with 1 being a brisk, sometimes steep or stepped hikes while 5 was rated leisurely - usually shorter and accommodated guests with walkers, canes , or wheelchairs. We usually broke into 5 groups of about 25 each and the use of the Quietvox Audio System, which broadcast the guide's dialogue to each guest's headset, made the tours most comfortable and enjoyable. In addition to the guide, each group was accompanied by a member of the Viking Program department. Each evening's orientation meeting for the next day's location and activities, along with the next day's printed materials including maps, details & history of highlights, and weather forecast prepared us to take advantage of each location. The on-board pianist provided music in the lounge most of the time that guests might be there, and there were lectures, games, or entertainment each evening after dinner, although by that time we usually were ready to relax in our cabin.
After docking in Budapest, we disembarked and checked in to the Marriott Budapest on the Pest side of the Danube and enjoyed Budapest at our leisure for three days. Our pre and post stays added much enjoyment to our overall experience, and we highly recommend that as a strategy to add value and pleasure to your experience. We returned home rested and relaxed despite active days every day of our trip, but the ease of traveling while having our hotel go along was wonderful: no packing, repacking, checking in, checking out. Everything we could require was planned and provided, and after the first few days, we were traveling among friends, both crew members and fellow travelers. We are planning our next Viking trip for spring of 2012.