European Christmas markets, beautiful Danube Austrian and Bavarian locations, sailing up river thru some 26 locks passing Austria and into Bavarian Germany, so enticingly promised by the highly effective and persuasive Viking ads. How did the cruise pan out? Just fine! Nearly completely met the promises, not easy to do…
This off season cruise incorporated the usual highly rated Romantic Danube agenda with the first week of Christmas markets in the heart of Danube gemutlichkeit (good feeling). It didn't hurt that we were lucky with both river water level (not too high or low, not always the case in past years), and weather i.e., cold but not rainy, just some delightful white flakes drifting down. Could one ask for more?? We don't think so.
Now I’ve gotta say: a big plus to the overall good feeling for us was the Atla’s 90% male crew led by a chef presenting consistently interesting, delicious, well served food. The only better food afloat per us might be Crystal, out of 20+ ocean and river ships we’ve been on. The chef, and Viking’s well planned menus, consistently fed the 186 guests wonderfully varied, fresh, well prepared, interesting selections, mostly with decent wine. Perhaps actually this was the biggest key to success of the cruise. A second was Super Mario, the tour and entertainment guru. The Captain and boat crew also all were efficient, aided by no shortcuts in the design and execution of the boat with its very well equipped cockpit. Our Ukrainian captain timed arrivals and departures well to maximize time in port plus one day doing daylight sailing thru the beautiful Wachau valley of Austria. All not easy to orchestrate given that we were going upstream on the fast flowing Danube with so many locks to negotiate, all while needing to fit in with commercial traffic.
Truth be told, if this is a fair example, (and it is our first time aboard Viking) they have this river cruising thing down cold. Personalized attention to detail again and again starts at the top with the CEO and his wife, the sparkly and appealing Karin. Rooms, meals, tours, places to dock, festive seasonal touches, a special arrangement with a wonderful monastery and seasonal cooking demo examples, special music just for the boat in a classic theatre in Vienna, so helpful service desk and an offset hall room plan, and working elevator for the more mobility impaired. Really hard to see how one could ask for more, different or better. While we're also fans of Avalon with their larger rooms, from past cruises, Viking certainly now has won our business and surely will see us again on the rivers...and maybe as ocean cruisers on their new ships as well.
Tip: we arranged our own to/from transportation. Viking did so for most others and had a problem with Lufthansa pilots going on strike. Lesson: pay a little extra ($50 I think) for the Viking option to use your own travel agent who can argue for and help to arrange the most favorable routing.
Great attention to detail and plans by Viking allows more passengers in the same amount of space as competing ships i.e. smaller cabins. In turn, they reinvest this added income into more features and staff than a smaller clientele would usually allow. Scandinavian sheet comforters instead of tucked sheets may take a little adjustment for some. Also the platform bed with somewhat slim mattresses. But plenty of good pillows, nice selection of large screen TV offerings. Excellent sound insulation, plenty of storage, well designed upgraded very small bath with heated floor, good amenities and composite counter, good sized flexible shower. We had a balcony room, not all that useful in December. Supposedly a bit larger than the french balcony but really hard to see any real difference except for the two rather lonely and cold chairs outside.
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