In June 2017, my husband and I went on the Danube Waltz Viking River cruise for our honeymoon. As we researched possible honeymoon options, I scoured the Internet for as many Viking River cruise reviews as I could find. I was slightly dismayed to find there wasn’t a whole lot out there!
Thus, to fill that void, I put together a comprehensive review of our Viking river cruise experience. Rather than a day by day trip report as usual, I’ll break down the different aspects of the cruise. In this first part, I’ll discuss the booking experience, embarkation / disembarkation, ship (layout and cabin), and dining. Part Two will include the shore excursions, on-board activities, staff service, and overall impressions.
I’ll add a spoiler right now that we both absolutely loved the whole trip and would wholeheartedly recommend Viking for river cruising. We had high expectations and they were met or exceeded in practically every way! With that said, on to my more detailed review!
I touched on our booking experience in a previous Wedding Wednesday post. However, I’ll recap here for those of you newcomers! We booked our trip back in August 2016 when we received an email for a limited time special discount on 2017 sailings for the Danube Waltz cruise. I’d suggest signing up for emails / mailings if you’re at all interested in cruising so you can take advantage of any deals. The brochure price is ridiculously high, but they seem to offer plenty of sales. When I received the email, I called right away and the Viking representative I spoke with was astonishingly helpful. He answered my whole list of questions and provided additional tips for a better experience and to save us money.
To start, he suggested beginning the cruise in Budapest rather than Passau since that route gives you an extra day in Budapest – a city with more to see. He also mentioned the referral program which saved us $100 per person just for knowing someone who previously went on a Viking cruise. Finally, he set up our entire itinerary and placed it on hold for three days. This allowed us to book the cheapest cabin without needing to make a rash decision.
One additional tip I discovered – Viking accepts credit cards but offers a small discount if you pay by check/e-check. This will save us an additional $100 on the trip! Overall, Viking’s customer service and their booking experience was terrific.
I will note, the only slight disappointment is that I told him it was our honeymoon and he said he would make a note in our file. He mentioned there would be some sort of special touch (bottle of champagne, etc), but we never actually received anything on the cruise. It wasn’t a big deal and we could have easily notified the maître d’ on board and I’m sure they would have offered us something. We didn’t go through the trouble, but I wanted to at least mention it so you know to double check if you are celebrating a special occasion.
Embarkation / Disembarkation
Viking offers assistance with all transportation requirements both before and after the cruise. It seemed like the majority of passengers took advantage of this service. If you book your air travel through Viking, they will pick you up at the airport and take you directly to the boat. Additionally, at your final destination they will bus you back to the airport. We booked all of our own transportation, so I’m not aware if there is an extra charge for this. Viking also provided an option to extend your trip a few extra days in Prague for an additional charge.
Since we arranged our own logistics, our Viking experience began as we stepped on board the ship. The docking location was included in our pre-departure documents that were mailed to our house, so it was easy to find. Upon arrival, we were immediately greeted and quickly checked in. They brought our luggage to our stateroom and one of the staff gave us a thorough introduction to our room and the ship. For anyone arriving earlier in the day, a light lunch was provided until mid-afternoon. Plus, there is always tea, coffee, and cookies (muffins in the morning) available all day long. We consumed at least 100 cookies throughout the week hehe. They were that good. Overall, it was a terrific first impression!
Prior to last day of the cruise, we gathered in the evening to receive our departure instructions. Viking gave each cabin color-coded luggage tags and an exact time that luggage should be placed outside your room the following morning. Whether you were going to the airport, taking a motor coach to Prague or just hailing a taxi (like us), they took care of getting your luggage there. There did seem to be a lot of rather early departure times for those who used Viking transportation (we’re talking 3am – 7am), so you might want to keep that in mind if you’re not usually an early bird!
On the last day, everyone needs to vacate their room by 9am but you can hang out on the ship as long as you like. We notified them that we would need a taxi to the train station and it arrived right on time and our luggage was placed in the trunk for us. They even found a taxi that took credit cards, as we requested. The whole process went extremely smoothly and got us on our way in no time.
Ship Layout and Cabins
River cruising is a much more intimate experience than other types of cruises. We only had 177 passengers on board with us. As a result, the ship is smaller. There are a total of four decks and the extra features include a main dining room, lounge with an outdoor dining option, library (with a mixture of local history books and novels plus board games!), and an open air upper deck with lounge chairs and tables. The upper deck also had a small walking track, shuffleboard game, and an herb garden. An elevator is available in addition to the grand staircase for at least the three upper decks.
It seems pretty minimal, but we never felt there was a lack of things to do. As I’ll discuss later, Viking provided a lot of entertainment on board. Plus, every day we were docked at a city so we always had the option to get off the ship and explore.
We opted for the cheapest cabin, a stateroom on the lowest level with just a small window. Although the room was tiny, it was very comfortable. There is lots of storage, both in the closet and the drawers. We also had a mini fridge and a large TV with a selection of music, movies, and TV shows. Both American and European outlets are in the room. This helps quite a lot when charging devices and trying to use a hair dryer at the same time!
The bathroom is rather luxurious with a nice size shower and heated floors. The provided Freyja toiletries (shower gel, shampoo, and conditioner) were in larger than usual bottles and were by far the highest quality I’ve ever used at a hotel. It’s such a simple thing, but I get so annoyed with those tiny bottles you normally find haha. I was rather excited about what Viking gave us! One slightly annoying feature are low lights in the bathroom (I assume for safety) that never turn off!! Jay had a bit of battle with these and finally stuffed pillows under the counter each night to block the light. I found it highly entertaining, him not so much : )
We honestly spent most of our time in the lounge or on the open air deck. Since we cruised primarily at night, I don’t think it’d be a huge benefit to have a full size window or balcony in your stateroom. Also, we sometimes docked right next to another ship, so you might end up looking directly into someone else’s room. We did have gorgeous weather though, so were able to spend as much time outside as we wanted. If it was raining or too cold, it might be nicer to have a view from your stateroom.
This part is basically a love letter to all the food we consumed on our trip. The quality of the meals astonished me! Viking offered a buffet or plated breakfast, two course lunch, and three course dinner every single day in the main dining room. As an alternative, you could always opt for the less formal buffet options in the lounge and sit outside! For breakfast, lunch, and dinner, there were always at least three options to choose from for each course.
My favorite feature was the regionally inspired menu available each night during dinner. One appetizer, main course, and dessert was inspired by whichever city/country we visited. It was such a thoughtful touch and a great way to try new and unfamiliar dishes. Plus, the chef would visit the lounge during the pre-dinner port talk each night and briefly explain what regional options were available. Prior to the cruise, I worried about missing out on the local cuisine since I knew we’d be eating each meal on the ship. So, this aspect was particularly thrilling for me!
Toward the end of the cruise, the kitchen staff presented an Austrian Evening with a truly massive variety of local cuisine. I probably ate more that night than I ever have before! To be fair, I insisted on trying literally ALL of the desserts, so partly my fault : ) That evening we also took advantage of an opportunity to walk through the kitchen. It’s incredible that the cooks can put together such a variety of delicious food in a tiny space!
As part of the price of the cruise, you also get unlimited wine and beer with lunch and dinner. To note, only one red and one white wine selection and one beer option are available. These stayed the same the entire week so it’s not a lot of variety. They were definitely a better quality than you’d expect from a house beer or wine in the States, though.
A much larger selection of beers, wines, and liquor was available for purchase. We glanced at the menu and the prices seemed very reasonable. Also available is Viking’s drink package. You can consume an unlimited amount of alcohol of any kind for an extra price per cabin. It seemed like a decent deal if you would buy a few drinks throughout the day anyway.
That wraps up Part One of our Viking River Cruise review! Stay tuned for details about the cities we visited and on board activities!