As our first river cruise, we weren't sure what to expect. It is definitely different than ocean cruising so resetting your expectations is step #1. Also, if you are going in December for the Christmas markets, expect weather. This ... Read More
As our first river cruise, we weren't sure what to expect. It is definitely different than ocean cruising so resetting your expectations is step #1. Also, if you are going in December for the Christmas markets, expect weather. This means wet-ish winter. Our cruise director told us "there is no bad weather, only bad clothes." It was definitely true. Have long underwear, dress in layers, have a coat AND gloves (no kidding, some people didn't bring them.) Be prepared that every day is not going to be sunny and warm. Also, don't be overly disappointed if you don't get a Currier and Ives snowy day effect. We were told that snow generally doesn't start until after the new year. In exchange, the tourist crowds are much smaller and the lights of the season are GORGEOUS.
This was a gorgeous cruise. The Danube is beautiful. All of the Christmas markets were beautifully lit. Strolling along, looking at the lights and people watching is free. The smaller stops were so beautiful with their cobblestones and ancient (for those of us from the United States) castles, cathedrals and just buildings along the streets. Just beautiful and so interesting. We went to some of the larger cities (Vienna and Budapest), but I really loved the smaller towns.
Local people were friendly. I never felt unsafe (and we are from a smaller town), but, that said, be smart about keeping your wallets in inside pockets and purses close at hand.
They definitely kept us busy, starting out each morning with a tour. Some of the excursions had a nice local flavor (like time with a local baker in Passau who explained the history of gingerbread and made some for us using old family recipes and molds.) We often had free time. I like those kinds of trips but if you are a sleep late or a "do nothing and veg-out" vacationer or if you are looking for high-excitement excursions like on some ocean cruises, this is not for you.
Our cruise went from Passau to Budapest. If you are taking this cruise I'd suggest you do it in that order because coming into Budapest at night is definitely a highlight and having it toward the end of the trip made it extra special. Also, the Christmas markets in Budapest struck me as having more interesting and local items than some of the other places we went. It was great to have that as an ending and doing it the other way around might nave been anticlimactic.
The Viking ship was beautiful. The staterooms were open and clean and new. We had a french balcony cabin. This is a floor-to-ceiling window that slides open to a railing, but that was wonderful for this trip. It was lovely watching the towns and countryside of the Danube float past and even in December, it wasn't too cold to have it open on some days. The crew was friendly and upbeat. The food was only average, but I have been told that is common because of the size of river cruise ships and their kitchens (again, this is not an ocean voyage.)
Once great thing was that Viking was not charging us extra for everything along the way. On board, you get a standard wine with your dinner and drinks at the bar are extra but it did not feel to me like they were trying to push all kinds of products at me to buy like on some of the ocean cruises I have taken.
There were about 200 guests on our cruise. We found them to be very friendly and approachable - just nice people. Dining is at larger tables and basically at one time, so by the end of the cruise, people seemed to fall into companionable dining groups. Seating is not assigned.
The shore excursions were generally walking or bus tours of the city (depending on its size) and included visits to the castles etc. Viking has a nice audio system for these excursions (included) - you have a little radio unit and earbuds that you recharge in your cabin overnight for the next day. When you arrive for your tour the next morning, the guide tells you what channel to dial in on to hear them. They you walk around without all of the yelling that you may have experienced in the past. It worked really well.
One note of consideration for some ... if you have walking problems you might want to consider the depth of the river at the time you are going. The Danube was very low when we were there. Although we could still complete our itinerary (apparently, that isn't always so, especially further north on the river) it made the gangplanks sometimes very steep at some stops, perhaps too steep for some to climb up. The ship may have alternatives to assist, however. Also, there is alot of walking - over cobblestones - at some of the stops. We seldom had a day where our fitbits were at fewer than 15,000 steps.
Definitely don't miss Prague as an extension. It was amazing! Read Less