The Viking Tor swiftly glided through the river. It was smooth sailing down the Danube as my husband and I sat on our balcony, watching the ever-changing vistas of castles, churches and small European villages pass by. Centuries of history now became part of my memory as I thought about the thousands of vessels that sailed the same routes.
Each day was a new adventure
Our eight-day journey on The Danube Waltz started in Passau, Germany with stops in Linz, Melk, Durnstein and Vienna, Austria; Bratislava, Slovak Republic, and ended with three days in Budapest, Hungary. This is the beauty of river cruising – the opportunity to visit so many lovely cities, towns and countries but unpack only once. Viking created a masterful experience – from the first-class surroundings to the exquisite dining to the port stops to the evening entertainment. The ship had only four decks with 190 passengers, creating a truly intimate setting. With open seating at every meal, guests had a chance to meet in a relaxed, casual atmosphere. Perhaps that’s why so many guests re-book for future cruises. Upon talking to others, I discovered many of them have sailed on several Viking cruises and felt the line offered an extraordinary experience and outstanding value.
Dining and entertainment
The chef-inspired meals were a delectable combination of local cuisine paired with wines as well as more traditional culinary choices. Guests could dine in the main dining room or the Aquavit Terrace for lighter fare with great views. The highlight was the Taste of Austria menu that featured authentic Austrian cuisine from hot pretzels with dipping sauces to hearty stews and pastries, and of course, beer! Servers were dressed in leather breeches or lederhosen, while an accordion player and his band entertained with festive tunes.
Every night, Viking offered another enrichment program, ranging from a lecture, live chamber music, opera, to folk dancing, to enhance guests’ cultural understanding of the ports.
Exciting ports with local guides
Having cruised on ocean liners before, I had not come to expect complimentary excursions. But Viking includes a local excursion at almost every port, giving guests the opportunity to engage with a knowledgeable tour guide whose commentary enhanced our understanding of history and culture. Indeed, there was ample time to explore the cities on our own or choose from optional excursions like expansive city highlights, home visits, winery tours and classical concerts.
Austria comes alive
In Linz, we set off for an all-day excursion to the Bohemian town of Cesky Krumlov in the Czech Republic. We toured the castle, walked around the main square filled with Renaissance buildings and enjoyed a lunch of wild mushroom soup and goat cheese salad. When we returned, we walked around Linz and discovered works of painter Gustav Klimt (most famous for The Kiss and The Woman in Gold) in every shop window and imprinted on every imaginable souvenir.
With a stop at the 900-year-old Melk Abbey, we explored the famous site of this Benedictine Monastery, still in use today. I admired the frescoes, courtyards and medieval manuscripts and yes, the 365 windows in this splendid treasure.
Vienna – the city of waltzes and Gustav Klimt
The wide boulevards of the Ringstrasse beckoned with its grand, elegant architecture. Highlights of this imperial city included standing in awe of St. Stephan’s Cathedral, the Hofburg Palace, the Vienna State Opera and the Gustav Klimt Museum. Like the locals, we sat at an outdoor café, sipping coffee and savoring their famous Sacher torte.
In the afternoon, an optional excursion awaited at the glorious Schonbrunn Palace, the summer home of Empress Maria Theresa in the late 18th century. When I commented that it resembled the Palace of Versailles, our guide replied that the French Versailles served as the model. That night, a fabulous presentation by Professor Alex Kugler on the history of the Habsburg Empire was especially meaningful.
Budapest – two cities of grandeur
Sailing into Budapest at night with the Parliament, Castle and Chain Bridge lights all aglow was a sight I will never forget. Budapest is actually made up of two cities, divided by the Danube, Buda and Pest. The morning tour highlighted both sides of the city, including Heroes’ Square, the Castle and amazing thermal spas with people soaking in them or playing chess on large floating boards. In the afternoon, a walking tour of the Jewish Quarter took us to the magnificent 19th Dohany Street Synagogue, complete with the Raoul Wallenberg Garden and Tree of Life memorial to those lost in the Holocaust.
The ship was also docked close to the “Shoes on the Danube.” This 2005 Holocaust memorial pays tribute to those who were shot on that site by the Arrow Cross and fell into the river. Today, the 60-pair of permanently bronzed 1940s-style shoes are covered with flowers and candles.
All too soon, it was time to disembark. Loaded down with Gustav Klimt everything, fine chocolates and hand-made wooden puzzles from the Great Market Hall, we looked back on our Viking River Cruises experience with wonder. We had covered centuries of history, made new friends and tasted new delicacies. Viking created the perfect river cruise…we’ll be among those returning!
Hotel Kempinski Corvinus – 5-star luxury in downtown Budapest
We spent a few extra days in Budapest with the luxurious Hotel Kempinski as our home base. The hotel is conveniently located next to Erzsébet Square, featuring the all-new Budapest Eye Ferris Wheel. From here, we were able to hop the bus, train or walk everywhere. The welcoming lobby is a great place for coffee and sweets, but the grand dame is ES Bisztro with its sumptuous breakfast buffet. For more upscale dining, enjoy the only NOBU restaurant in Central Europe, Chef Nobuyuki Matsuhisa’s new-style Japanese cuisine.
Dining at Spinoza Café
The Spinoza Café had come highly recommended and provided an exquisite meal of roasted goose breast with potato dumplings and a traditional Jewish Flodni with plum sauce for dessert. Awesome!
The Budapest Card
Get this card in hand to save money. The Budapest Card offers free transportation on buses and trains as well as entry to six top museums, Buda Castle, guided tours, plus discounts. Available at the airport and hotels.
If you go
The author would like to thank Viking River Cruises for hosting this trip.