The following is my review of my recent “Romantic Danube/Christmas Markets” river cruise on the Viking Odin.
A little background; I am 53, DH is 57 and while we have 20+ cruises under our belt, this was only our second river cruise (The first was on the American Queen-Mississippi River), and our first European river cruise, and our second time to Europe. I like to think of myself as a “Glass Half Full” kind of person, but I must admit I was beginning to worry that this trip would not come anywhere near my expectations after reading several reviews that were full of doom & gloom with all that could go wrong; River levels too high or too low making a river cruise into a bus trip, strikes by the lock workers on the rivers, strikes by the Lufthansa pilots, broken locks, bad weather, etc. It just seemed that with a river cruise more could, and often did, go wrong. I am happy to report that my fears were unfounded.
I won’t bore you with our flight details, sufficient to say that 7-hours from Philadelphia to Frankfurt, a 5-hour layover in Frankfurt, and another 1.5 hour flight to Budapest made for a rather long day plus. After arriving at the Budapest airport we gather out luggage, were waived through passport control, and we met by at least eight representatives of Viking to ensure we got on the right bus for our transfer to our boat. Apparently there were four Viking cruises starting in Budapest that day; two were doing Romantic Danube, and two others were doing the Danube Waltz itinerary. A very cheerful man gathered his weary flock of travelers, and got us settled on the bus, where they passed out bottles of water, and away we went.
Embarkation-Fastest ever! Once we go to Budapest, and to where the boats dock along the Danube we were met by a chaotic scene of multiple tours buses of all kinds that were discharging or picking up passengers. However, it was all quickly sorted out, and soon we were on our way to boarding. We were met by a smiling Viking employee who handed us a warm, moist wash cloth that we could use to wipe our face and hands of the stain of travel, got in line to receive our key card (Took 3 minutes tops), then we were handed off to another employee that escorted us to our cabin. Within another 5-minutes our luggage had been delivered.
Cabin-We had booked a window (Known as an aquarium class) cabin, and found it quite comfortable. The layout was efficient, and plenty of storage for hanging clothes such as coats, shelves for folded items, and 4 drawers for underwear and socks. The bathroom was tiny, but I loved the heated floor, and the fact we had a glass shower door, rather than a curtain. There were shelves here too for all of our toiletries. Every day our cabin was serviced twice a day by our marvelous room steward. The only drawback was I found the two pillows per person to be too thin for my liking, but we asked for, and quickly got an additional pillow each. There was a flat screen TV, and a selection of movies, and all the episodes of Downton Abbey available on demand. There was also a limited selection of TV stations available (Mostly news), and music too.
Dining-There is one main dining room that is used for all meals. Normally breakfast was served between 7am-9am, but the hours were slightly adjusted depending on what time we were docking for the day’s tour. I think once it opened as early as 6:30, and on the morning we arrived in Nuremberg they served breakfast as late as 10am. Lunch was normally served between 12-2pm, and dinner most nights was at 7pm, but one evening they didn’t start serving until 7:30 (Night of the Captain’s Dinner). I thought the food was excellent. There were usually 2/3 starters to choose from as well as a soup and three entrees to choose from as well. For dessert there was a featured dessert, as well as several ice cream flavors to choose from. All seating was open so you may sit where and with whom you choose. Most of the tables seated 4 or 6. There were a few 8 tops. I didn’t notice any tables for two.
There was a more casual alternative for those that wished on the Upper Deck called the Aquavit Terrace. A Continental Breakfast was served in the mornings, available about half an hour earlier then when the dining room would open, and at night you could get a lighter meal. Items served included; Cheeseburger, Chef Salad, Caesar Salad with Steak or Chicken, Chicken Quesadilla, and a Jacket Potato (Think loaded baked potato with bacon wrapped around it). We ate there two nights; the first night on board when we were so tired we only wanted a quick bite and be off to bed, and the last night when nothing on the menu appealed to me.
Entertainment-They had something scheduled every night, starting around 9pm. We missed most of the entertainment as we normally turn into pumpkins around 9, but one night was a Christmas Sing-a-Long, another night was Hungarian Folk dancers.
We had 6 ports on this itinerary; Budapest, Hungary, Vienna, Austria, Melk Abbey, Austria, Passau, Germany, Regensburg, Germany, and Nuremberg, Germany.
Budapest-We arrived in Budapest around 4:00 in the afternoon on Saturday. After dropping off our luggage in our cabin we decided to go the Christmas Market on our own. The Program Director gave us easy to follow directions (Within walking distance) and we quickly found the market. However, being a Saturday afternoon/evening it was very crowded. By crowded I mean could not move forwards or backwards at one point. That proved to be too much for me, and we made our way to the Danube River, where we admired the Buda side of the river illuminated beautifully. We found a street vendor selling hot spiced wine who accepted euros, drank our wine and admired the view. We tried to find a boat ride that would have taken us up and down the Danube so we could see the Pest side of the river as well, but the only one we could locate was a dinner cruise for 40 euro each that took 2-hours. I wish Viking had taken the opportunity to give their guests a little scenic cruising that first night.
The next morning we were up early for the bus portion of our included tour that drove past various points of interest including a cathedral, the opera house, several parks, the zoo, spas, and Hero’s Square. While our guide was very good, and was very knowledgeable about Hungarian history, it seemed that everything she pointed out was on the left side of the bus. Naturally, we were sitting on the right. Things improved when we go to the Buda side of the river, the Castle District, where we had the walking portion of the tour. After our guide was done we had about an hour of free time to explore the area, which included some shopping, and great views of the Pest side of the Danube. Then it was off by bus to meet the boat.
Vienna-Vienna was our longest day. We arrived around 7am, and our bus tour left at 8 or 8:30. We started with a bus drive on the Ringstrauss and saw many impressive buildings, and then it was time for the walking tour. We had signed up for the leisure paced tour after being assured we would see everything everyone else did, and we would have plenty of free time. Our tour guide was excellent, and she did point out a number of interesting sites. We did go past the Famous Spanish Riding School, but it being Monday, the horses were having their day of rest so we saw no more than a horse or two poking its head out a stable door. What was disappointing to me was we ended up with only 35-minutes of free time, while other groups had at least an hour. I had wanted to go to Café Central, and managed to get to it in our free time allotted, but there was no time to actually have a cup of coffee. All too soon it was back on the bus to go to back to the boat for lunch. After lunch they had two shuttles for those that wished to go to the Christmas Market. One left at 2:00, the other at 2:30. There was also an optional tour to Schonbrunn Palace that had a cost of approximately 40 euro. We opted for the 2:00 shuttle to the Christmas Market. When we arrived at the Christmas Market we were told there were two return shuttles; one at 3:45, the other at 4:45. I had thought we would stay until the 4:45 shuttle, but we ended up returning on the 3:45 shuttle as we found the Christmas Market in Vienna disappointing. While large, most of the stalls were filled with mass produced items. I don’t think I was the only one disappointed as it appeared everyone was trying to get back on the 3:45 shuttle.
There were two sittings that night for dinner; one at 6pm for those that had chosen to go to the optional Mozart/Strauss concert that evening (Cost was 63 euro pp) and another at 7:30. As we were going to the concert, as was about half the boat we ate at 6:00. The concert was excellent and appeared to be enjoyed by all. When we got back around 10:15 they were serving a light supper in the lounge of Hungarian Goulash Soup (Excellent).
Scenic Cruising through the Wachau Valley & Melk Abbey-Day four found us sailing through the Wachau Valley, which I found to be as beautiful as advertised. Have your camera ready, especially around 8 in the morning as that’s when we passed Krems on the right, which is postcard pretty. It was one charming storybook town, church and castle after another. In the afternoon we docked at Melk Abbey. For those that were feeling fit, you could walk up, for the rest of us there were buses. One group left at 1:00, and the other group left at 1:30. Melk Abbey was very impressive, and once again we had an excellent guide. The Basilica of the abbey is jaw-dropping beautiful, and even my husband, who normally doesn’t get that excited about churches, was impressed.
Passau, Germany-Passau is a charming, very walkable town, with narrow, twisting cobblestone streets. Unfortunately for the town they do have an issue with flooding. We had yet another great guide. There were a couple of options for the end of the walking tour. You could choose to end at a bakery for a demonstration in gingerbread baking, or end at St. Stephen’s Cathedral for an organ concert (The organ at St. Stephen’s is the largest in Europe). Because I love torturing my husband we went to the organ concert. There was no additional charge for the concert, which lasted about half an hour. The inside of St. Stephen’s is very impressive. After the concert we went to the Christmas Market which was just outside the Cathedral. This was a nice market, which a nice selection of booths, and great food. My husband enjoyed a bratwurst kabob, while I loved my steak sandwich slathered with sour cream and topped with raw onion. Don’t knock it until you’ve tried it. Yum! The boat was leaving right after lunch, but for those that wished, you could stay in town and take a bus at 5 that would bring you back to the boat up river. We opted to stay in town, exploring and shopping. We found a charming store, where my DH finally got his longed for cuckoo clock.
Regensburg, Germany-Here we had another walking tour. However, I personally didn’t enjoy it as much as the one the day before in Passau. Part of the problem was the town was over flowing with tourist from river cruises. Not just Viking, but other lines as well, and unlike in Passau where the tour guides would take different routes to avoid congestion, it seemed like every guide wanted to go to the same place at the same time. We also didn’t have a very good guide. He walked very fast, and kept leaving members of our group far behind. I kept running up to him, to no avail. He seemed to think it was the group’s responsibility to keep up to his pace, rather than for him to adjust to the group’s pace. He also used some crude language that I found off-putting. We finally gave up on him, and with another couple bailed on the tour when we came upon the Christmas Market in town. After perusing the stalls, and drinking a glass of a hot, eggnog punch (I was getting tired of gluhwein) that was delicious we went into St. Peter’s Cathedral, an impressive Gothic Cathedral, before making our way back to the boat. That afternoon we took the optional tour to the Thurn & Taxis palace in Regansburg. The palace was very beautiful , and once again we were blessed with an knowledgeable tour guide. After the tour we then went to the Christmas Market on the palace grounds, and this was my very favorite market as there were a number of vendors with beautiful hand-crafted items.
Nuremberg, Germany-Our final stop. We didn’t get to Nuremberg until a little after noon on Friday. There were two tours to choose from, one that focused on the WWII history, and one that didn’t. We picked the one that didn’t, but still got quite a bit of WWII history before we went to the “Old” part of the city (Nuremberg was nearly destroyed in WWII and what appears to be medieval buildings are actually rebuilt since the late 1940’s). There you could continue with a walking tour, or go straight to the Christmas Market. About half of the bus went on the walking tour, while the rest of us opted to go straight to the Market. This was another great market as I felt it had something for everyone. There were stalls with hand crafted items, and stall with less expensive mass produced items, and enough food choices for any palate. It’s very large and in the 2+ hours we were there I don’t think we saw everything.
So, to sum it all up. I loved this trip. I thought the food, service, accommodations, and tours offered by Viking were top-notched, and would sail with them again in a heartbeat. I also loved the Christmas Markets, the towns we visited, and the people we met.