I’m nestled in my bed after a morning of exploring the outskirts of Slovakia’s capital of Bratislava as I flip through the pages of a Hungarian history book from the Viking River Cruise library. The doors to my French balcony are open as I watch the river run through the Danube’s surrounding hills and gorges. The fresh spring air mingles with my richly brewed latte and apple strudel from the ship’s coffee bar as we set sail for Budapest. The Viking River Cruise itinerary is carefully crafted for the guests to enjoy the Danube River’s most scenic, lush countryside and castles during the daytime sailings.
As a traveler more accustomed to commutes via rickety buses without air conditioning, I can’t help but revel in this Danube Waltz from Passau to Budapest with Viking River Cruises. Typically, I find myself navigating the stressful trains, buses and confusing city streets of a destination, but with river cruising, I can simply relax, read, and watch the Eastern European scenery unfold before me. If debating about taking a river cruise for the first time, consider the following questions.
How long do you need in a specific destination?
Many travelers believe it is impossible to know a place in a single day. Some radical travelers propose that you need to live in a place to truly see it. So what do you make of a river cruise’s itinerary with just a day–or even less–in one locale? I was very fortunate to have had lovely weather when I wanted it the most, but always consider the possibility of missing out on a dream destination due to a day of bad weather. The levels of the river can occasionally lead to cancelled excursions and ports. Some river cruisers have even been known to take their entire tour by bus due to low river levels.
In addition to a river cruise’s numerous, brief stops, you don’t get to pick where you go next. In Germany, I had falling in love with Passau—a quaint, castled river town with an almost Italian Mediterranean charm—and had a desire to keep exploring Germany and head to Berlin. Of course, with the ease of an itinerary comes the sacrifice of flexibility. That said, with Viking River Cruises I did find I had ample time to seek out my personal bucket lists in each selected port city and even while on the ship, Viking River Cruises arranges local entertainers to perform onboard, along with informative cultural and historical programming and the serving of regional dishes that allow you to experience the destinations even in transit. In short, I truly felt like I experienced Germany, Austria, Slovakia, and Hungary in those 8 days.
What does your travel budget look like?
River cruising is a high-end respite for mostly older couples and small groups. The “floating hotel” effortlessly sails you from destination to destination with the package costs easily offset by the value-packed extravagant care and personalized service offered by the ship’s staff and travel coordinators. I don’t think I’ve ever eaten so well, seen so much of the world so efficiently, and experienced such service in my life!
Are you willing to chart your own course?
Viking River Cruises offers bus tours or walking tours in each port destination. Personally, mass tourism is not my style. Rather than flocking with hundreds of camera-toting, headset-wearing Americans: Viking River Cruises offer the flexibility for guests to chart their own course—that is, as long as you make it back to ship before departure time. Otherwise, you might find yourself scrambling to sync up with the ship at the next port.
With the abundance of travel blogs and online guides, seek out what you want to do with your one day in Vienna or Budapest, rather than attend a mass, impersonal viewing. Though, if you do elect to partake in the planned itinerary, the walking tours and bus tours included in the Viking River Cruise itinerary are highly rated with knowledgeable, running commentary from local guides.
How do you feel about community dining?
The elegant, spacious main dining room, lined with windows to showcase each European city we visited, is filled with community tables for 6-8 guests. Each meal held an opportunity to meet with other travelers from around the world over indulgent three-course meals. Wine and beer included! Viking River Cruises attempts to imbue an element of the ports of call in each menu, like Goulash in Hungary, with safety dishes like salmon, steak, and caesar salads for the less culinary adventurous. I had the opportunity to meet well-traveled couples and ladies’ groups from the US, Canada, Australia and even China! I was inspired while discussing details about dream destinations from all over the world and–considering I was significantly younger than the average river cruiser–I received an abundance of wisdom and life advice. For those evenings when I wanted time to myself, I was able to eat on the Aquavit Terrace located on the ship’s bow, with a soup/salad/sandwich/pub food buffet service with the options of outdoor and indoor seating. One night, I even took a plate back to my room and watched The Sound of Music with crab cake sandwiches and a yogurt parfait.
Check excursion reviews.
Viking River Cruises offers more cultural immersion in their optional excursions. In Hungary, I was able to ride to the countryside and experience the unparalleled skill of the Hungarian Horsemen firsthand. They even taught me how to use a whip, where I ended up winning a bottle of Hungarian red wine with my newly acquired whip ability. In Slovakia, I was able to travel with just three other guests to a home visit to discuss life, pre- and post-communism. But, unfortunately, I did not check the reviews for an “Austrian Countryside” excursion, where I imagined frolicking through the hills like Julie Andrews in The Sound of Music and hiking through the Alps. Instead, we were led to watch a video about cheese-making in an enclosed dimly-lit abbey. However, the cheese sampling did not disappoint!
Book a river cruise if…
Booking a river cruise is not only an adventure of a lifetime but also an investment that should not be taken lightly. Spend the time researching the cities and port destinations on your desired itinerary. As a solo traveler, I cherished the opportunities to make connections with people from all walks of life, however when I set sail on my next river cruise I hope to bring a family member or close friend. An experience of this magnitude should be shared!
Have you traveled on a river cruise? What did you think? Share your thoughts on river cruising in the comments section below!
Meet the Author
Becky Kivlovitz is a writer for The Pin the Map Project with published work in Backpacker Mag, Women’s Adventure Magazine, Texas Music magazine, Wide Open Country and more. Email Becky at Becky@thepinthemapproject.com.
*Becky was invited by Viking River Cruises to Vienna on behalf of The Pin the Map Project. Check out the river cruise she took here. As always, The Pin the Map Project will only work with brands and companies that we 100% recommend to our readers.