Viking Bragi Cruise Review by BCguy100
- Sail Date: September 2013
- Destination: Europe River
1. Grand European Itinerary (Amsterdam to Budapest or reverse):
• Probably the most popular, particularly if you like 'history, castles and cathedrals'.
• Not sure if continuing onto Belgrade worth the extra time and cost.
• Extra time in Budapest worth it if you haven't been there before, although Viking's “add on” is quite costly (but totally organised and hosted).
2. Why travel west to east:
• This was noted by our Cruise Director. Leaving Amsterdam is a more leisurely start (Kinderdijk windmills, Cologne at end of second full day).
• Leaving from Budapest, you experience three major cities (Budapest, Bratislava, Vienna) immediately.
• The ship arrives Budapest late evening, with all castle, bridges, etc, lit up – quite an amazing sight. Leaving Budapest would not give the same effect.
3. On board (I can only comment on Viking, but I would think they are all fairly similar):
• Totally pampered from the moment you arrive (details if you want).
• 52 staff for about 188 guests. Aside from a few 'behind the scenes' crew members, anyone is there to assist you with anything.
• Meals and Service are equivalent of a very fine restaurant (Claire – similar to Arbutus Club Fireside, if you've eaten there). Breakfast and lunch always a choice of sit-down service or self serve buffet. Dinner is a three or four course sit down (although one can choose a limited menu upstairs in the Lounge as an alternative). Amazing what they can offer/serve to almost 200 people from a small kitchen (we took a tour; eleven cooks/preps in about 100 sq. ft).
• Beer, wine, soft drinks, etc, gratis at lunch and dinner. They don't skimp. The stock wine quality is quite sufficient.
• Beverage Package – almost $900 per cabin (about $30 pp/day). Not worth it unless you want to drink lots of 'premium' spirits and/or upgraded wine.
• Program Director – makes or breaks the cruise. Ours (Gary Nicholson) was more than excellent. The rest of the crew are there to serve, but some have limited English and not the general knowledge of the PD. He was more than our main point of contact – always on the land portions and seemingly available at any point on the ship. We had a drink with him numerous times.
• Sundeck – 'roof' of ship with tables, chairs, loungers, shade and a walking track. Great location in good weather (we didn't have, although I walked the track for more than an hour on two days; great way to see the sights and get some exercise). Note – this deck is closed for much of the middle portion of the cruise due to 'low' bridges and/or high water.
4. On Board Guests:
• Mainly older Americans, with Brits the next most, and then some Canadians, Aussies, etc. Average age well into the 60s.
• With 'Open Seating' at meals, can get “cliquey”. However, we found many interesting people to sit and chat with.
5. Viking cabins – which to choose vis a vis price, etc:
• If you look at their website, you will see prices ranging from about $4500 to $15,000 per person.
• The 'Standard' cabins are below the waterline with a small window (you need to be almost 6' tall to see completely out). I've heard these tend to sell out as they are he cheapest. If you don't want to spend time in the cabin, then perhaps OK. At least one of the cabins had a plugged drain issue from the shower.
• Decks 2 and 3 have an 'offset' hallway. The starboard (right) side cabins are larger and have a full balcony. The port side cabins only have a French balcony and less space in the room. We chose the full balcony room on Deck two (about $1200 more than the port side rooms). It was nice to have the extra space, although we were at the back of the ship.
• About $400/pp more for Deck three (than two). Not sure if it's worth it.
• Deck three also includes some small suites (two rooms, with both a full and French balcony). These are almost another $3000/pp than the full balcony rooms – nice to hvae the separate rooms, but a lot of money.
• Explorer Suites – two of these at the stern. Much larger with a wraparound balcony. However, $15,000/pp is very pricey. Note – there have been issues with noise and vibration with these suites (on our cruise, one couple cancelled payment mid cruise as they were very disappointed; not sure how that worked out). Worth investigating if you have clients interested in these suites.
• Recommendation – suite #304, two rooms near the middle of the ship might be the best 'value' (size, cost and noise).
6. Port experience – tours, choices, guides, etc:
• A knowledgeable, English speaking local guide in every port. Tremendous value. Each guest has a wireless earpiece on his/her guide's separate channel (works up to 400m away so one can 'wander' and still keep in touch).
• They always offer a 'leisurely' tour (less strenuous) although the 'regular' wasn't difficult. A few of us suggested a 'strenuous' version (more and faster walking) to counteract all the food/drinks consumed!
• In many ports the ship docks in the middle of the city and the tours walk from there (a Viking advantage as they have many of the 'prime' positions). In others, a bus transports you to the city (always brand new, high quality coaches).
• There are a few extra/optional tours at extra cost, but the included ones are more than enough. We did choose the 'Regensburg' optional tour as Rick Steves highly recommended it.
7. ‘Vagaries’ of the river, including limitations due to river height (both low and high) as well as bridge heights:
• See above re the closure of the Sun deck.
• If the river is high, then the ships often can't travel (more likely in the Spring). If too low, same problem (although the ship only drafts 1.5 metres). For this reason, I would avoid late May/June. We chose September – unfortunately, the 'nice Fall' we had expected didn't materialise and the river was almost too high due to the ten days of rain we had. The Danube and Inn rivers meet at Passau which adds considerably to the volume of water.
8. ‘River’ cruising vs ‘ocean’ cruising (I’ve only ocean cruised in NA):
• Although we've only cruised mid size ocean ships at around $100 pp/day, others on the river ship were comparing the service level to Seabourn, Silver Star, etc, ocean cruise lines.
• Our cabin level (mid price) was approximately $425 pp/day, but then everything is incuded. After tips and onboard spending, we ended up spending about $13,000 total for the two weeks (and felt it was well worth it). But, perhaps not for everybody.
9. General cost. Booking times (in advance) and ‘incentives’:
• As above, it was pricey (and it was a “Two for One” offer). They do seem to sell out almost 18 months in advance by offering the above and other incentives. We did our own airfare (Aeroplan) so I can't comment on their air packages. We did talk to an Australian couple who had taken up reduced air, a beverage package and free gratuities (but then, I don't know how much they paid).
• Suggested, but not included automatically. Interestingly (and it made sense), they separate the tips for the Program Director from the rest of the crew. The suggested amount was about 360 euros/pp for the 'crew' (apparently split somehow) and 60 euros/pp for the PD.
• We noticed a lot of guests putting cash into envelopes (thus, anonymous) rather than on a credit card.
• We actually tipped more like what the ocean cruises suggest and felt it was quite fair.
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