My boyfriend and I learned more about Viking River Cruises from PBS (while watching Masterpiece, of course!) and were immediately interested in the the fact that we could go to Europe and unpack once and still see multiple cities. Being that we are only in our early to mid-30s we were hesitant to book the cruise, thinking that it would be a bunch of old ladies in shalls and men in top-hats on the cruise.
We booked the Danube Waltz European Holiday cruise and were excited at the prospect of seeing Europe for the holidays. We decided to sail over the Thanksgiving holiday and started our journey by extending it pre-trip in Budapest, Hungary. Upon landing in Budapest, we were greeted by the friendly faces of Viking's staff at the airport which helped us with our luggage and waited with us until our car came to whisk us away to our hotel. For the extra two days, we stayed at the magnificent Gresham Palace, Four Season Budapest.
The hotel and its staff were amazing, so hospitable and accommodating. Our large and well-appointed room was on the fifth floor (the top floor of the hotel) and our private balcony overlooked the beautiful Chain Bridge, which connects Buda and Pest. The Viking guide, which was already waiting for us in the lobby of the Four Season, kindly waited for us while we checked in and made our way down from our room. She thoroughly went over the layout of Budapest as a city with a map, letting us know how public transportation worked, where popular sights to see were at, etc. At our request, she gave us a mini-tour of the surrounding neighborhood of our hotel and after dropping us back at our hotel, left us to explore the city by ourselves for the next two day. (Although she offered to meet with us each day and show us around her lovely city, as two men in their 30s, we opted to explore on our own.)
What an amazing city Budapest is! It is very tourist friendly city (the American dollar is strong and the population is English-speaking) and very walkable. The day we were set to join our fellow shipmates aboard our Viking vessel, the same Viking guide which greeted us at our hotel on the first day, arrived with a van and driver to pick us up and drive us the 200 feet to the ship. We thought this was hilarious, since we could have walked it, but Viking doesn't let you down (all transfers are included...haha!).
Upon our arrival on ship, we were warmly greeted by Viking's staff and being that we were younger than their traditional clientele, surprised them. Over the next 8 days we visited the lovely cities in our Danube Waltz itinerary. At each stop, the local Viking tour guides made each visit very special. Each city visit started with a 60-90 minute walking tour, led by very knowledgeable guides. Then we were allowed to explore and enjoy the wonderful cities on our own. I would suggest that prospective Viking travelers look into the additional shore activities, most of which are well-worth the money.
The staff aboard the ship was attentive and always had smiles on their faces. The spacious cabins were cleaned daily and the turndown every night was a nice touch. Additionally, there was TONS of storage in each room. There were plenty of places to store your busy suitcases (at least in room 319 there was). While the food is very good and the Viking kitchen staff does a good job to change up the dining menus, I would suggest you attempt to eat as much as you can locally when on shore. This is all part of the experience and you are missing out if you decide not to.
Once we finally reached our last port in Passau, Germany, it was hard to say goodbye to Europe and the Viking ship. You really do forget about days and current time when aboard the ship. On our departure date, we were driven 2 hours from Passau to Munich to board our flight back to the states. Our last interaction before we left Europe was a Viking guide who helped us with our luggage at the Munich airport and led us to the counter to check in. This was the best vacation I have ever taken.
While this is not an inexpensive trip (this is not a trip for high school kids or spring breakers looking to get hammered), the value is in the ease, comfort and care of the Viking ships and the wonderful staff. We had an amazing trip and look forward to doing another one in the near future.
Oh, and we didn't see any men in top hat on the cruise...