Curious about Viking cruises? Set sail with me down the Danube River!
I realize this post is EXTREMELY long overdue. Almost a year, in fact! We took a 2-week Viking River Cruise last August, and mostly because I felt like this post was so daunting, I’ve just avoided writing it! I’m sitting down now, though, because I have several other travel posts that I need to create, but this series MUST come before those.
I realize that Viking seems like it serves a very niche market. This cruise was a family vacation that my mother, father, and sister-in-law, and my husband and myself took together. We were by far some of the youngest people on the boat (save a couple of grandchildren accompanying their grandparents). This is not a party boat. This is not your typical booze cruise, full-floor casino, night-life cruise ship. Viking is all about luxury, relaxation, and culture immersion. The cruise we took is what would be listed as the “Danube Waltz” from Budapest to Passau, with a four-night extension adding on Salzburg and Munich (arrival by motor coach).
We boarded our boat, the longship Viking Ingvi, in Budapest, Hungary. I feel that most of my family would say this city was the surprise star of the cruise, but more on that in a minute. Rooms have either partial view “porthole” windows, sliding glass doors, or full-sized balconies with furniture. Although most rooms are smaller than a larger cruise ship, our room had a king-sized bed with enough storage for both of our large suitcases, and the sliding glass doors gave the illusion of a much larger room. The bathroom has a hotel-calibre shower and, the biggest perk, heated floors!
Every meal served is all-inclusive, and since the “crowd” on the ship is so small (there are only 95 staterooms), almost everyone can fit in the dining room at the same time, so there is never a wait or confusion of choosing a dining time. Although there are some standard dishes that are served each night, Viking attempts to theme their dinners around what country or city you are docked in. They will decorate the dining area according to these themed meals, as well! The service is beyond-friendly and outstanding, and although everyone on staff speaks multiple languages, English is the standard and is spoken fluently by all.
Our ship had a walking track on top and also plenty of outdoor seating for breakfast and lunch. I thought that a lack of a hot tub or pool would be disappointing, but honestly, once you are finally on board the ship after an entire day of walking and sightseeing, you’re pretty much ready to eat and get in bed!
Day 1—Budapest, Hungary
We arrived in Budapest midmorning, and the Viking motor coach was waiting at the airport to pick us up. We, along with about 40 other passengers, made our way to the ship which was docked on the Pest side of the city, not far from the beautiful Parliament building. Our rooms were ready on arrival, so after a brief rest, we ignored our jet-lag and began our first tour with Viking, and did I mention that all tours are included with the cruise as well??
Each tour is conducted by a local guide who works with Viking, so you really feel like you’re getting the authentic story of each place you visit. Everyone is given an earpiece, so you are able to hear your guide without them having to shout. Our guide on this first tour walked us around the block closest to our ship to familiarize us with the area. She took us to a spot down the river that was one of the most moving places we visited on the entire cruise.
The monument “Shoes on the Danube Bank” is located on the east bank of the Danube River to memorialize the people (many of them Jewish) who were ordered to remove their shoes before they were shot by soldiers into the river during World War II. Eastern Europe definitely has had some dark moments in history, but they don’t shy away from remembering them and allowing visitors to recognize them, as well.
Day 2—Budapest, Hungary
Our next morning started bright and early with an 8:30am motor coach tour. We began the tour with a visit to Heroes Square, a monument to commemorate notable Hungarian leaders and the Chieftans, or early conquerors of the land.
We were allowed a few minutes of free time before we boarded the bus for the other side of town, the more historic and hilly “Buda” area. Our guide took us around the beautiful Fisherman’s Bastion, where we took in the panoramic views of the Pest town below.
We then toured the ornate Matthias Church (named for a king that we were repeatedly reminded was NOT a saint!), which was built in the 14th century. This was the last stop on our tour, so we were allowed more free time here.
After a quick lunch on board our boat, we set out to explore part of the city on our own. We visited the Great Market Hall, known for its fresh food as well as being a mecca of souvenir shopping. After that, we braved the language barrier, probably the most challenging I’ve found from our European travels, and took a taxi over to the House of Terror, a museum that sheds light on the torture and evil that took place in the building and country during the Nazi as well as the Soviet Union regimes. This was an educational experience, but I would definitely recommend using an audio guide since most of the signs are in Hungarian!
This was our last night in Budapest, so after dinner we made our way to the roof of the ship to take in the breathtaking nighttime views of the Chain Bridge and of course the Parliament Building. Goodbye, Hungary!
Day 3—Bratislava, Slovakia
During the night we sailed down the river to the capital of our second country, Slovakia. Our tour began after breakfast, and we stopped by the Bratislava Castle, which is still in use by their government today, and took a walking tour of the charming old town. It was so beautiful in August that I can’t imagine what it must look like when it transforms into a Christmas market in the winter! Back on board the boat we ate dinner and were treated to a show by traditional Slovakian dancers and singers.
Day 4—Vienna, Austria
Sailing through the night again brought us to the large city of Vienna. This is DEFINITELY somewhere that I would have liked to spend more than a day. Our tour bus drove us around and after walking through historic squares and shopping areas, we ended the first portion of the tour at St. Stephen’s Cathedral. Construction on this monstrous building was completed in 1160. My US American self will never cease to be amazed at the beautiful and functional European architecture that has stood the test of time.
We were brought back to the boat for lunch and a short rest before our second tour of the day, a trip to the “Versailles of Austria”, Schonbrunn Palace. Built in the 1500s and one-time home of Marie Antoinette, the palace as well as its gardens are something to behold. After the inside tour of the palace (no photos allowed, strictly enforced!) we were given a short time to tour the gardens before we were told to be back or the bus would leave. Since we knew that the city’s metro system stopped close to our boat, we decided to stay for the rest of the afternoon. We were later told that the bus waited on us (although we were told it wouldn’t!) so make sure you let your driver know what you are planning on! After we toured the gardens we (my husband and sister-in-law) decided to visit the Vienna Zoo, the oldest operating zoo in the world, and conveniently located on the palace grounds. This was a great end to our quick visit to Vienna!
Day 5—Durnstein and Melk, Austria
Our time in Durnstein was spent walking, because the interior of this tiny little town is strictly pedestrian! We were given some time on our own to explore the town and the castle ruins that sit above the city. We were definitely not prepared for the giant hike up the large hill, but thank goodness it was a cool morning! After we boarded the ship to reach our second destination of the day, we sailed through the green and picturesque Wachau Valley, where we took in the sites of historic Austrian towns, as well as small castles set on the river banks.
We arrived in Melk to tour the expansive Melk Abbey. Since 1089, monks have been living and working in this abbey, and still do today. This marked the end of a long day of sailing and two beautiful towns!