Exploring Vienna and Budapest – we had two days in each city – was delightful. These bastions of the former Austro-Hungarian empire stand proud with their sublime architecture, fabulous café culture, superb dining and sheer sense of living history. My father is Hungarian and I have a great emotional connection to the land and its people.
Highlights in Vienna were a visit to Schönbrunn Palace, and the adjacent zoo for baby panda watching. I also loved the inspiring Albertina and Belvedere art museums (a must for Klimt fans). A breath-taking night cruise to the illuminated Gothic Parliament building in Budapest was my favourite experience. Our moorings in the Hungarian capital near the Elizabeth and Chain Bridges enabled easy exploration of the city on foot.
We also had a well-informed guide for the Budapest city tour who showed us the sights from the comfort of an air-conditioned coach – essential in the late summer heat. In Vienna, we were conveniently moored near the Vorgartenstraße metro stop, just a 10-minute ride to Stephansplatz near the Stephansdom – the perfect starting point to explore this fascinating city.
Food glorious food
Guests have two dining options on a Viking river cruise. Either a more formal menu in the restaurant where you get the chance to dress up (otherwise dress code is very informal) or the smaller Aquavit terrace for a buffet option. We had lunch outside on the terrace most days – all drinks with meals are included. A floating restaurant as well as a floating hotel, Viking has got it right by making their cruises all-inclusive.
Dinner was consistently superb, thanks to the skills of Executive Chef Michael Dominguez and Maitre d´ Clifford Wong. Viking makes a point of giving guests destination-related cuisine, so we were treated to Austrian and Hungarian specialities such as (real) Goulash soup and schnitzel, as well vegetarian options. The wine list also reflected our locale: I highly recommend the Hungarian dessert wine Tokaji, as well as the fruity Grüner Veltliner from Wagram’s Mörwald winery.
The mix of guests (couples, friends, family and a few singletons) meant there was always someone new to sit with at dinner and share great conversation. Our table companions were 90% American with the remainder made up of Canadians, Brits, Aussies and Kiwis. There were a few tables à deux upstairs, but in the restaurant, you’ll be at a shared table for dinner. Viking encourages eating out at destinations so if you’d prefer a romantic meal for two, then head for the many options in Vienna or Budapest. Ask your concierge for recommendations.
Thanks to our superb and ever-cheery hotel manager Jadranka Brajkovic, I can tell you that the average consumption per cruise is around: 70 bottles of wine per day, 150 bottles of beer, 160kg of meat, 50kg of fish (25kg salmon), around 1080 eggs and 900 litres of milk!
Outstanding staff and crew
One of the many reasons Viking are consistently voted top river cruise company is their excellent and well-trained staff. A multi-national crew, we had superb service. They were always smiling and helpful. Captain Yuriy Chaplynskyy (thank you for our chat in the wheelhouse) was a calm presence at the helm, while all the waiting staff, including Christopher Valev and Miss Rose were superb.
We always received excellent advice from our efficient concierge Sandor Negyesi and the reception staff Sandor Nagy and Sarolta Szathamari were very helpful. And I’ve already mentioned Lisette and Jadranka – both of whom were outstanding. With 190 guests on board, the team worked flat out to make sure our needs were taken care of. Leaving us to just sit back and relax.
Once on board Viking Egil, I didn’t have to think much for the next 10 days. What bliss! Essentials like: what to choose for dinner… Which aperitif shall I have next… And which fabulous excursion should I choose (I went for them all) was the limit of my stress. Soothed by the constantly flowing water, stunning landscapes and incomparable service, I relaxed – for the first time in months. River cruising is effortless. You are safely cocooned in a luxurious floating hotel and all you have to do is enjoy yourself.
After ten days of outstanding service, superb accommodation, brilliant destinations, fabulous food and truly excellent staff, I didn’t want to leave. And neither will you.
Viking River Cruises – Where and How?
The world’s largest river cruise line, award-winning Viking Cruises currently offers cruises along the rivers of Europe, Russia, China, Southeast Asia and Egypt. Ranging from eight to eighteen days, cruise itineraries feature Europe’s Rhine, Main, Danube, Seine, Saône, Rhône, Douro, Moselle, Elbe, Dordogne, Garonne and Gironde Rivers; Russia’s Volga, Neva and Svir; China’s Yangtze; and Southeast Asia’s Mekong and Irrawaddy. Viking recently won best River Cruise Company at the 2016 Travel Weekly Globe Awards for the 3rd year in a row.