This is a review of the Grand European Tour from Budapest to Amsterdam from the 1st to the 15th of October. We also did the 3 night pre tour in Prague and the post 2 night in Amsterdam.We have travelled the world extensively, but his was our first River Cruise and I did a lot of research on the various company's before booking. We chose Viking because they touted to be the original and the best, with luxurious and fairly new long ships. We are not really cruise people, but this seemed like a relaxing holiday compared to the more adventurous hiking ones we usually do. This was a once in a lifetime cruise for my 60th Birthday and we encouraged our 2 Australian Friends to spend up and join us. I am still feeling guilty over that.
The booking process from Australia was fine (although we were not made aware of the option to upgrade our hotel in Prague and subsequently ended up at the Corinthia, which was almost 5 kms out of town and away from our friends.
We used Viking Air and that worked very well as we had flights with Emirates who are great and we had the option for a stopover which we took in Dubai.
First dissapointment came upon arrival in Prague.
The 3 night pre excursion was expensive and I assumed a 5 star hotel close to the old town would have been the Standard. How wrong I was. The Corinthia is definitely not 5 star, I would rate it 3+ and almost 5kms from town. Luckily Viking provided shuttle busses or it would have been a disaster. Our room on the 16th floor was unrenovated, dusty and had a saggy bed. There was mould on the bathroom tiles, the bed was saggy and there were no power points.
We were so upset that my husband spoke to the Hotel the following morning and asked to be moved. They gave us a nice, renovated room on the 4th floor (which is what we should have had to start with, a deluxe double).
Meanwhile we had received the regulatory, last minute email from Viking about the water levels and possible Itinerary changes. I had been dreading this after keeping track of other sailings and reviews.
We did the optional, Prague by night tour which we considered a waste of money. We just bussed around for an hour having ministerial buildings pointed out to us, (none of which were lit up anyway). We had 2 short stops. One for a distant view over the City and the other at a Commercial Building for a view. On the included tour of Prague, we were supposed to tour the Castle, but our guide said we were too late and the lines were too long.
After a 5 hour bus ride to Budapest to Embark the ship, we were told we could not sail from Budapest and would embark at the Industrial Port of Estergom, an hours bus ride away from Budapest. That was my next dissapointment. It had been a bucket list Item to see Parliament lit up at night, but that was not going to happen as the boat was not there!
Embarkation was smooth and was aboard the Viking Modi, not the Skirnir, as we had already been informed of a ship swap the next week.
The ship itself was luxurious, absolute 5 star. The Staterooms were beautiful with plenty of storage space. Bathroom design was fabulous. All the Staff on the Modi were outstanding, the Musicians very talented, and the food choices were fantastic. We were looked after very well and even a small Birthday cake on my special day. The Wifi is just terrible- no excuse for such a poor bandwidth. The administration and organisation was excellent ( our on board credit was ready for us and our account always accessible upon asking.) I would not bother with a verandah stateroom though. The ship is either docked in industrial ports or tied up to another ship and you have to draw the curtains for privacy.
Included tour of Budapest dissapointing as rushed due to Bus time.
This became the normal for each port- too much time on busses, restricting ou free time to enjoy and relax.
The cruising we did do until Regensburg was lovely especially the Wacchau Valley.
We had to swap ships on to the Skirnir at Regensberg- this was seamless. Just leave luggage outside the door in the Morning and it was like getting on the same boat after the day tour.
The Skirnir was a little more 'tired' looking than the Modi and the staff not as friendly.
We thought that would be the only disruption to the cruise until the bad news that we could not sail past the City of Mainz, 2 hours from Cologne and that we would disembark a day earlier to a Hotel in Amsterdam.
The atmosphere was getting a bit tense. Our Tour Director, Terry was doing an outstanding job of trying to hold everything together under trying conditions. Because we could not sail the Middle Rhine, we were given an option of bussing to Rudesheim to board a flat bottomed day ship, so we could see the famous Castles. This was a very long day, but we were glad we did it to see the Rhine. The lunch provided at the Loreley Restaurant was truly terrible. The River levels are shockingly low and have been for a long time.
Viking long ships have a draft with minimum 1.7m on them. So they were never goung to sail through. We later met some fellow Australians who sailed with Travel Marvel. They did the same cruise but their ship got all the way through to Amsterdam.
From here, everything went pear shaped.
Our Cologne Optional Tour was refunded as we would not be there. We Disembarked in Mainz and long bus tour to Cologne for a hurried walking tour. No scenic cruising of Waal and Merwede or Kinderdijk Windmills.
Again, the hotel (Highett Regency) in Amsterdam is a 2km walk from the Old town. Not a big deal for us , but their were quite a lot of much older people on the cruise that would have had a problem. The included walking tour of Amsterdam was useless. The guide was more interested in showing us the area nearby and the signs on the letter boxes that meant 'No junk Mail'. We never went to the historical area. It was lucky we had extra days in Amsterdam to explore on our own.
A few days after our cruise we recieved a welcome home letter and apology from Viking for the disrupted itinerary. They said we would receive seperately, a voucher for 50% off a further cruise. We are still waiting for that. We feel it should have been a 30% refund of what we had already done, to be fair. I doubt we would ever risk another River Cruise or recomend using Viking. There are other Company's with smaller drafts on their ships that will get through the rivers in Europe. I feel that Viking Management are not transparent enough with regards to Itinerary changes and water levels ,especially in these days when long term forecasts are able to give an accurate indication of rainfall.The rivers have been low for months.
In fairness to Viking, you ships are lovely but you contingency plan for low water is not. I was exhausted after this 'relaxing' tour.
Beautiful cabin, overall the cleanliness and detail were a bit better on the Modi than the Skirnir.