Fabulous food, inspiring destinations, and spectacular accommodation. A Viking River Cruise could be your best holiday yet, says Gina Baksa
A river cruise virgin until a few weeks ago, the thought of a slow sail down the Danube had never been number one on my bucket list. I had images of cabin fever, having previously cruised on much larger vessels.
I’m laughing now because my Bavaria to Budapest 10-day Viking river cruise turned out to be one of the most enjoyable holidays I’ve ever had. I’m now convinced that travelling via the river is the very best way to reach the heart of any destination, let alone Austro-Hungarian empire must-sees Vienna and Budapest. Viking longship Egil was a floating, five-star luxury hotel with accommodation, service, food and destinations to match.
The trip began with a short flight to Munich where we were met by a friendly Viking rep who guided us to the coach for the ride to Erlangen, where Viking Egil was moored. And what a spectacular ship she is.
Our light-filled, two-room Veranda Suite on the upper deck was fabulous: floor-to-ceiling glass doors with outstanding views of the passing scenery. The balcony – with room for two to sit – soon became my ‘happy place’. Perfect for relaxing with my friend, while watching incredible landscapes along the Danube.
Storage was plentiful and I loved the cosy lounge area with fridge and desk. I didn’t spend much time in the cabin to be honest, but there is a great selection of movies to watch on the two 42-inch TVs in the lounge and bedroom. And soundproofing is superb. I never once heard our neighbours.
Thoughtful touches included fresh water and fruit every day. And a printed itinerary each evening that outlined the following day’s program and excursions. Special mention here to Ivan our butler who was always smiling and helpful: Our cabin was always immaculate. And thanks also to Jana Olujic, head housekeeper.
The best accommodation on any Viking longship is the superb Explorer Suite at the rear of the ship. These spacious suites have wraparound verandas giving 270-degree views from your floating hotel. There are only two on each ship so I recommend booking early.
The public areas of Viking Egil were light-filled, comfortable and spacious (think Scandi fine wood and wools, cotton, cashmere and linen in a neutral palette) and I never felt claustrophobic – there is plenty of space for all 190 guests.
Pre-dinner drinks in the lounge was always fun as we made friends with fellow passengers who clearly loved Viking (“We’ve been on every Viking cruise there is!”). We also gathered here each evening as our program director Lisette Van Loon announced itineraries for the following day. Quite how she stayed so calm while efficiently organising us all for the many excursions I have no idea. She was amazing.
Wi-Fi is free throughout every Viking longship and is sufficient for emailing, but it does struggle with sending or downloading large files and Skype wasn’t an option either.
I loved the relaxing sundeck – truly the best vantage point for out-of-this-world vistas, such as the stunning Wachau valley (rolling hills, ruined castles, vineyards) and our arrival into a sun-drenched Budapest. Seeing the Hungarian Parliament building from the Danube is a once-in-a-lifetime experience that should be on everyone’s bucket list.
All Viking longships have superb green credentials too, such a solar panels, an onboard organic herb garden on the sundeck and energy-efficient hybrid engines that give an amazingly smooth ride. I was hardly aware the ship was moving.
Bavaria to Budapest – an outstanding itinerary
Viking pride themselves on their destinations, surely the main attraction for any river cruise, and our itinerary from Bavaria (Erlangen) along the Main/Danube canal and into the mighty Danube to glorious Budapest was outstanding. Spectacular views of the Bavarian, Austrian and Hungarian landscapes as we passed through some of the deepest locks in Europe. Going to sleep in one country and waking up in another is so exciting.
Viking provides shore excursions – and superb local guides – at each stop. Equipped with our own personal Quietvox – for listening to the superb commentary – we learned much about the history and culture of Nuremberg, Regensburg, Passau, Krems, Esztergom, Vienna and our final destination, Budapest. Some were walking tours, others by coach – such as our visit to Gottweig Abbey near Krems where we sampled heavenly apricot wine.
In Nuremberg, we had a half-day walking tour with an excellent guide who spoke with refreshing candour about the city’s role during WW2.
In the small town of Dunaalmás in Hungary, we made – and ate – our own delicious cherry strudel at a local farm. Meeting warm and welcoming local people was one of many highlights of the cruise. I love the way Viking mix up smaller less well-known destinations with must-see capitals.