This is our third river cruise with Viking. The previous two were fabulous - Canals of the Tsars and the Danube/Main/Rhine cruise. We have also done more than a dozen sea cruises, including adventure cruises to Galapagos, Antarctica and Alaska.
This by far, except for a forgettable Yangtze cruise with another company, was the most disappointing of all our cruises. We departed from Budapest to sail down river to Bucharest. As it is our second visit to Budapest, and we have done all the major sights in the city during our first visit, we booked two optional excursions with Viking instead. These were tours to places outside Budapest. We were eager to checkout the surrounding countryside and had really looked forward to the two tours. Both turned out to be very disappointing. One was nothing more than a visit to a little old town full of over priced tourist shops. We stopped at a bakery/cafe for tea as part of the itinerary but it turned out to be a rather unhappy experience as the tour guide and the waitress were hopeless. It took forever for the orders to be filled and they ran out of items, then the serving was at a snail pace. Our guide did absolutely nothing to speed it along.
The second tour to the favourite castle of Elizabeth (fondly known as Cissy to Hungarians), was slightly more interesting but nothing to write home about. Please do not waste time and money on any optional tours. They are overpriced and a complete waste of time. Save the money for nice meals and gifts instead.
We spent two nights in the Marriott hotel, then we packed to board the ship. At the end of the cruise in Bucharest, we had to check into the Hilton hotel again for one night before departure. I much prefer the arrangements in Russia, where we stayed on board our ship throughout and did all the sightseeing from there, using that as our base even in St. Petersburg and Moscow. Saved us the hassle of packing and unpacking. That's one of the reasons why we pay so much to sail instead of taking cheaper land tours.
I cannot fault the Viking team on board. They were always friendly, helpful and informative. We also had excellent guides in the cities we visited and I thoroughly enjoyed talking with them and trying to gain a better understanding of the Balkan War, which saw so much unnecessary bloodshed in several of the countries we sailed through.
As the war ended only about 10 years ago, this region is still trying to rebuild and it is obvious they are struggling. High unemployment is rampant and abandoned factories dot many of the highways we pass through when we drove out to visit scenic sights.
Some of the towns we sailed into are small and have not much to offer - certainly nothing close to what you would see along the Rhine/Main rivers. The trips and visits were all short and not very exciting. There were occasional gems but most days, we were done before lunch and that leaves a free afternoon with nothing much to see or explore in town. Even the shopping was pathetic. I wanted very much to shop and put some money into the local economy but could find very little to buy, besides tourist trash.
Of all the cities we visited on this part of the Danube, Bucharest was the biggest surprise. What a charming and lovely city. Viking's sightseeing arrangements in the city was quite limited. We visited the Museum Village with them and opted to see the Parliament of the People instead of doing the Old Town walk.
It was the right decision as the ENORMOUS Parliament building, a testament to one man's oversized ego and the excess that resulted from it was really quite elegant. I had expected it to be really over the top, so was nicely surprised to find some of the rooms rather pleasing. Many of them were quite empty and crying to be used. Those who went to the Old Town walk (basically 90% of the guests) found themselves with nothing to do after an hour of walking and had to wait for us to return to join them for our next sightseeing. Most of them were deterred from going because Viking's advisory said there were 200 steps to climb. What they did not elaborate was that it is the total number of steps for the entire tour. Many of the guests could have made it if they were given the correct information as we have climbed quite a lot of steps during other visits and I have seen most of the guests making it.
The cabin was fairly decent in size. Definitely preferable to the French Balcony cabin. Here, there is space for a chair which is comfortable enough to sit in and read. When the weather permits we prefer the balcony. Sufficient storage space for clothes and knick knacks in the drawers and wardrobe. We tucked all the suitcases under the bed. We have learned very early in our travels not to bring along oversize suitcases. I also always travel with cheap hangers that laundry shops use and I leave them behind at the end of each trip.These hangers are convenient for hand washed laundry, especially on board ships where laundry service comes at a hefty price.