Happy New Year! It has been awhile since I have been back with you all. I really did my best to focus on being present with family and friends in the holiday season. If you follow me on Instagram, you know I recently returned from a Viking river cruise on the Danube with my family (mom, dad, and grandmother). It had been a “bucket list” trip that we have been wanting to do for years, especially during the holidays to see the Christmas markets. I am so happy to be able to share and review my trip with you all today.
Disclosure: My cruise was compensated by Viking
We have been wanting to do a river cruise on the Danube for quite some time. My ancestors’ last name, Dandar, originates from Austria/Hungary, so we have been eager to explore that part of Europe. We also long debated between visiting in the late spring when the weather is more pleasant, or in December for the Christmas markets.
We were very happy with our choice to visit for the Christmas markets. There is nothing that quite gets you in a more festive mood than being surrounded by the smells of hot mulled wine or (gluhwein) and ornaments made of cloves. In every city along the way, the wooden stalls were covered in garland and twinkle lights. There were handmade ornaments and local pastries. In Budapest, it was very fun to see many of my gradmother’s recipes that always felt unique to my family on prominent display (like chicken paprikash and poppy seed rolls).
The one unfortunate part about being there over Chirstmas was that many of the shops closed early on Christmas Eve, and completely closed on Christmas and the day after Christmas (St. Stephen’s Day). While Viking does do earlier December trips specifically marketing the Christmas markets, this trip had no mention of the markets or holidays at all. It was a bit of guessing game if the markets would be included on the excursions in each port, but fortunately they were and the boat felt very festive for the season.
The boat was decked with trees, garland, and lights. They had Christmas music, cookie making classes with the chef, and a beautiful Christmas dinner of beef tenderloin. None of this was specifically marketed, but our cruise director, Mario, made sure that everyone on board felt the spirit of the holiday.
Of course, there was nothing more beautiful than passing by the sweet towns along the river with beautiful homes and churches adorned with lights. You are really so close to the land on this river, it almost feels like you can touch the trees. There was something magical about waking up to a cup of coffee on the balcony passing by the picturesque towns.
I know you all are eager to hear the details of the schedule, the ship, service, and excursions. Feel free to drop any comments below and I will do my best to answer them in a timely manner. I will also be reviewing the hotels we stayed at on arrival in Budapest and departure in Frankfurt later. Please note I booked those outside of Viking, as well as our airfare. Viking does offer extensions on the beginning and end of their itineraries, as well as the ability to book your flights. Many people on board chose to do the extension at the end of the cruise, which was two nights in Prague.
Romantic Danube: Budapest to Nuremberg
8 days, 3 countries (Hungary, Austria, Germany)
Day 1 & 2: Budapest
Day 3: Vienna
Day 4: Krems
Day 5: Passau/Salzburg
Day 6: Regensberg
Day 7 & 8 : Nuremberg
We were originally booked on the Viking Alta, but due to water levels we ended up on the Viking Jarl. The ships both had the same layout and style, so it was not an issue. The ship itself was very comfortable. Lots of clean lines and nicely appointed fabrics were used throughout the ship.
We stayed in a Veranda Stateroom which had ample closet and drawer space and a bathroom with a double door shower and heated floors. The bed could be seprated into two twins if you are just traveling with a friend. Next time, I would definitely stay in a Veranda suite, just to have a little more space to relax. On times when you are cruising the river, there is some down time and would be nice to enjoy it in the privacy of your cabin without having to be in your bed. You could sit in the lounge, or on warmer days you can sit on the terrace.
I do wish the ship had a small gym or spa, that would have made for a nice activity to do while cruising. I will say it was just such a peaceful experience and was nice being so close to the shore. It is just a majestic experience to hear birds chirping while smoothly gliding along the river.
Overall, I really enjoyed the food on the ship. After the first day, they immediately knew your preferences. We purchased the premium beverage package that they offer prior to departure. It enabled us to buy high-end wines and cocktails without any additional charge. That said, the wine they had on board was already very good. Many of them were local regional wines. We thoroughly enjoyed eating on the ship. They also had the most spectacular soups! I am still thinking about how tasty they were.
Breakfast in the dining room could be a la carte or a really nice buffet that had an omlette station and fresh fruit. The ship had two coffee and tea areas which was my go-to in the mornings. They would also have pastries and muffins you could grab.
Lunch was always lovely on board. There were some days when you had to have it on board if we were cruising, but most of our lunches were eaten at our destinations. My grandmother, who is hard of walking, stayed on the ship the majority of the time. The housekeeper for her room, Sasha, would help escort her to lunch or even bring her some lunch in her room. Another example of how the service was above and beyond.
Dinner was excellent overall. Each night, they would have a regional tasting menu that was reflective of the current destination. They also would have a nightly tasting menu, and a menu of their steady staples. I personally loved getting the regional tasting menus as a fun way to extend the day’s destination.
There are no reservations needed for dinner, but I will say you can’t eat privately together. The smallest table is set for six people, so it was often my family of four and another couple that would join. Of course, it is always interesting to meet new people and was greatly enjoyable.
The service was truly outstanding and made a wonderful experience even more exceptional. Everyone from the cruise director to our waiters to the housekeepers would recognize you by name. They were friendly, accommodating and phenomenal in the way they each made sure your questions were answered. The cleanliness in the rooms, at food service, and everywhere on the ship was truly outstanding!!
We chose to do all of the included walking tour excursions, with the exception of Vienna. It was Christmas Eve when we were docked in Vienna and I wanted to do a little shopping and have lunch at Zum Schwarzen Kameel.
We also did the optional tour of Salzburg when the ship was docked in Passau. It was a two hour bus ride to Salzburg and another two hours back. Viking owns many of their own buses and they were nicely appointed. Salzburg was worth the trip. I would love to go back and do a little shopping. The Christmas markets there were also very picturesque. The tour guides were also exceptional every time.
Q & A- please ask more questions in comments!
How old do you have to be to cruise on a Viking River Cruise? 12, but Viking Ocean Cruise is 18.
Is the ship rocky (easy to get sea sick)? Not at all, in my opinion. Often the ship would start moving and we would have no idea until we looked out the window. It was also very quiet.
Would I recommend a river cruise? Absolutely. They are small and intimate ships (about 180 people onboard ours), there is no rocking and you don’t feel stuck on board. The service was phenomenal, the food was great, and there was a great ease of being able to visit multiple countries without having to pack a suitcase in between. It does cater to a more mature crowd and if you don’t enjoy mingling with other guests, you could feel a little trapped. The excursions were well done with knowledgeable guides, but you definitely will stand out following the guide with a lollipop shaped ship sign with audio in your ear. They do give an ample amount of free time to be on your own. I would do it again in a heartbeat with Viking. The Christmas markets were so magical, but I am sure late spring in bloom would be spectacular. My family is already planning to do it again on the Rhine!
My parents and grandmother (who were not given a comped trip) completely agree with my assessment.