Only been on one cruise before and that was on an enormous Royal Caribbean ship in the Caribbean which we didn’t enjoy as too many people, too impersonal, and all dockings were at awful ugly tourist trap towns like Ocho Rios in Jamaica where we couldn’t get off the ship because of fights in the streets and the dirty Cozumel in Mexico.
This cruise on the Viking Var was exceptional. There were 180 people on board and everyone was looked after as though they were family. It is to be noted that 90% of the travellers were from the USA and the average age had to be 65 with thankfully NO CHILDREN.
We started our trip by flying from Heathrow to Budapest with BA. On arrival there was a Viking rep at the airport available for help if anyone needed it. We arrived in Budapest and several reps were available to ensure the right passengers got to the right ship. We had a 45 minute delay in getting to the ship because the transfer coach did not arrive on time with the excuse of a traffic jam. The driver should have checked on Waze or Google and left plenty of time to get to the airport.
We arrived at the ship at 14:30 and fortunately the restaurant was still serving food. Our suit cases were delivered to our cabins. Our cabin number 325 was quite small but cleverly designed to make the most of the available space. We had twin beds with enough cupboard space to hang and put away our clothes including hiding our suit cases under our beds. The shower was large with a non slip mat and 2 different shower heads. Soap, shampoo etc were all there and were replaced when used. We had been warned that the electrical sockets were not UK 3 pin and took with us converters. It was great that there were several USB connection points for recharging our iphones and iPads. We paid a bit extra and had a nice balcony with a table and 2 chairs to sit on and watch the scenery go by, but this was seldom used because we met up with both our 4 friends we travelled with and new friends who we made on board and met on deck or in the comfortable lounges. I am not certain wether we would book a cabin with a balcony on our next trip as a Juliet balcony, where you have patio doors but no balcony to sit on, would probably suffice.
Regarding food, drinks and restaurant timings. Timings were set to fit in with all the off ship tours and for each meal you could either have a snack or 3 course meal. Alcoholic and non alcoholic drinks were served foc only during meal times. At all other times, they were charged to your cabin unless you had purchased a drinks package. There is however a coffee/tea station open 24 hours. Every evening there were 3 super menus: A 3 course local fare menu dependant on the country and city we were docked at; a menu with a selection of different daily themed plates and; a menu with a choice of food which was available every day. vegetarians, pescatarians, omnivarians and especially Americans who typically are unwilling to try any unusual food they don’t recognise will have no problem finding something that would suit them.
On arriving at the boat we asked the restaurant manager, the wonderful Alexandra, if they could provide lactose free milk and for my wife, gluten free food. No problem at all, I know that one day when they ran out of the milk Alexandra actually left the ship to go to a store to buy some herself!!! Every day Alexandra would show the dinner menu to my wife and went through what she could provide gluten free. She was a miracle worker and my wife received the perfect selection of food every day and with no nasty side effects.
The serving staff in the restaurant were unbelievably helpful and service was never delayed. We tried to keep to the same area in the restaurant so that we had the same servers. Who wouldn’t want to make sure they had the wonderful Alan, Yuri and Ryan looking after them.
By the second day, they knew that the 6 of us in our group didn’t drink wine and made sure we were provided with a selection of suitable soft drinks and very occasional bier or shandy.
We booked our holiday to include the cost of tips, but we were looked after so well that we still tipped them at the end of the trip.
We took the free tours as offered as part of the cruise as well as a couple of additional cost ones which we wanted. The tour guides were extremely knowledgeable and looked after all participants making sure no one got lost or were left behind. Only one of the guides was below par, but that was in comparison to the others which was a shame.
Tours commenced early in the morning so we tended to go to bed early, waking up at 6am or 630am to ensure we managed to get breakfast before setting off. Every day bottles of water were handed out to those taking part in the tours. The tours were arranged depending on people’s abilities and ensured that the less physical persons were not left out or placed on a tour they could not cope with. The headphone system to listen to the guides was first class and we never had a problem of hearing or understanding what they were saying or we were seeing.
This Danube cruise started in Budapest then sailed north to Vienna, Krems Passau, Regensberg finishing at Nuremberg. We then booked an extension of a 3 night stay in Prague.
Transfer to Prague was a 3.5 hour coach ride.
The ship’s Maitre D for the whole of the cruise was George. He was brilliant and provided film shows and pre tour information to help everyone get ready for the excursions with timings and advice. We often saw him about the towns during the excursions to ensure we were all ok. In the evening he even sang with the onboard professional resident entertainer Sylvia who sang and played a piano/ keyboard both in the evening and during the day.
We had been looked after so well on the ship that we were, in comparison, unhappy with the reception by the reps and the position of the Hilton Hotel in the New Town. We arrived at approximately midday after the long drive and there was no food or drinks waiting for us. We were advised that we would not be provided with a room until 3pm and not one room was released till they were all ready. This was unacceptable and should have been made available as soon as each was ready. During this delay, we were taken outside the hotel and the rep pointed out the station and where shops and restaurants would be and just given maps and told where we could go nearby to obtain a meal. This was not acceptable and not in the manner of being looked after we had become accustomed to. We decided to have lunch in the hotel in one of the restaurants but were told that even though there were several empty tables they refused to put 2 tables together so that the 6 of us could sit together. The Viking reps should have expected some of us to want to eat in the hotel after a long transfer from the ship and made arrangements for the restaurant to have space available. So everyone (we were all in groups, having made friends on the ship) left the hotel to find a restaurant that would sit us together.
This Hilton hotel, whilst new and attractive inside with its atrium is positioned between 20 minutes and a half an hour walk to the interesting part of the city. This area in the New Town is also dirty and there were men who either follow you around offering to exchange your currency or stand around the ATM exchange machines where you don’t feel safe to be alone. Never trust them as someone was sold what they thought was the legal currency but in fact we’re worthless.
This was never the case in the old town where tourists and students were in abundance and we felt extremely safe. As a Hilton diamond HHonors member I expected my bedroom to be upgraded but this was refused as I didn’t book the hotel direct but through Viking. I didn’t see the relevance to this as one way or another they were still paid via me and I will be complaining to Hilton directly.
The hotel itself is very large and very modern and our bedroom overlooked the interior of the hotel and atrium. There was a problem with the bedroom that we were taken to as whilst it was twin bedded as booked it only had a shower in the bath which my wife could not have physically climbed into. I told the Viking rep that the room was not as booked and was told they could do nothing and I had to go to reception. They did not offer to intercede. When asked to be moved, reception was not at all helpful and eventually gave us a king bedded room with a shower, saying that (in this enormous hotel) there were no twin bedded rooms with a shower available. I certainly felt that their response would have been different if I booked with Hilton rather than through Viking. Breakfast was included and there was an excellent choice of food from the breakfast buffet. We took bread rolls, meats, cheese and salads every morning so that we had sandwiches for lunch. The next day we were taken on a coach and short walking tour of Prague and the following day we went on an additional cost tour of Jewish Prague. This guide was knowledgeable and really excellent ensuring we visited and entered every important site.
On the last day we were rudely woken up at 07:30 by the maid who continued to bang on the door till we opened it. Check out time was 10am so we were really angry about this and complained to reception who was very rude saying that they had every right, especially as we had to wait till 3 pm to get a room when we arrived. At the end of our stay, transfer to Prague airport was arranged by Viking from the hotel and having left our suit cases at their dedicated desk in the lower lobby. We didn’t see our suit cases again till we arrived back home in London. This desk was manned the whole day for advice and help on what to do, how to use public transport, and where to go in Prague but was not helpful in the same way as on the ship.
Don't forget to take sweaters, cardigans and shawls with you as the air conditioning on the ship is very cold.
At the end of the cruise and before disembarking in Nuremberg we were offered coupons costing £100 Pounds Sterling, payable in Euros (everything on the ship was based in Euro’s) and for each £100, a coupon of £200 was given. Unfortunately only a maximum of 2 can be purchased.
We enjoyed the cruise, the staff, the food, the tours and their organisation so very much that we will be booking with Viking again in 2021, that is unless our children purloin the coupons.
It should be noted that whilst we were warned that the discounted coupons were only available before we left the ship, we have in fact received emails still offering them a week after returning home.
Sent from Graham's iPad
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