My husband Bill and I were invited to take a cruise with Viking River Cruises and decided that a Christmas Market Cruise on the Danube could be a fun way to get into the holiday spirit. Our 7 day river cruise started in Passau, Germany and ended in Budapest, Hungary. This was our first river cruise on Viking.
A few weeks before the trip, our documents arrived along with our full itinerary, luggage tags and lots of information about our cruise and the Danube river. This was all packed into a nice travel case that was designed to hold an I-pad or tablet.
Our flights and transfers were arranged by Viking and all connections were flawless. Upon our arrival in Munich, we were met by a Viking representative, who escorted us and other cruise passengers to a comfortable bus that took us to Passau.
Our Christmas River Cruise
Arriving just in time for dinner, we sat at a table for eight and immediately got to know some of our fellow cruisers. The Viking Baldur holds 190 passengers and we were an almost full boat for this trip, the last cruise for the Baldur in 2014.
The ship is designed in a Scandinavian style, with light woods and soft colors. Our room, which had a full balcony was lovely, with plenty of storage space. We enjoyed the state of the art flat-screen TV and free WiFi service.
The next morning, after a full breakfast, we went on a two hour guided walking tour of Passau. This is a truly charming city, one that was really not on our radar. Our guide was excellent; he was informative, entertaining and had a great sense of humor. In fact, we found that all of our tour guides on this river cruise were highly professional and loaded with pertinent, historical information.
The Austria leg of the cruise itinerary included a walking tour of Linz, a visit to the Melk Abbey, and a full day in Vienna. We loved Linz and found it to be more than just a charming city; it is also an important cultural center in Austria. The Melk Abbey sits on an outcrop above the Danube and was originally the royal palace of the Babenberg family. After a fire, it was rebuilt between 1701 and 1736 in the Baroque style . In Vienna we participated in a city walking tour and a special excursion to the Vienna Christmas market, one of the finest in Europe. Other guests opted to visit the opulent Schoenbrunn Palace, which we had already visited on prior trips to this region.
While we enjoyed several memorable Christmas Markets on this river cruise, the Vienna market took our breath away. We had never seen such a huge market nor one so well lit. It is truly a winter fairyland. In Vienna, we returned in the late afternoon to see the market at its best…all lit up. It was over-flowing with people eating wursts and drinking gluhwine while strolling among the chalets filled with holiday crafts and decorations. While in Vienna, we joined other cruisers for an optional Mozart and Strauss concert. It proved to be an enjoyable way to spend an evening in the city of music.
Each morning we were treated to an expansive buffet breakfast. Of course, you could also order eggs made to your specifications. Lunch was also a buffet, but you could order off the menu as well. Each evening we enjoyed a complimentary glass of sparking wine as we listened to our cruise director, Oliver, tell us about the following day’s tours, activities, and evening entertainment.
For dinner, we were able to order off the menu with several tempting choices available. Beer and wine are included with lunch and dinner along with soft drinks, coffee and tea. We chose to sit at different tables each evening, sharing our meals with a variety of interesting people from across the United States.
We were pleasantly surprised by the quality and variety of entertainment offered in the evening; from relaxing piano music to Austrian Christmas carols, to beautifully costumed Hungarian dancers. We were always happy to return to our room each evening as our housekeeper, Madelena, kept it well stocked and perfectly clean.
As our river cruise ship glided into Budapest at 11pm, we were greeted by spectacular views of the Parliament complex of buildings which were bathed in glittering light. It was a stunning sight that we will not soon forget. Budapest itself takes your breath away.
We are so happy that we added two days following the cruise in this gorgeous city. It was also comforting to have a Viking representative staffing a desk in our hotel to help us navigate the city and offer add-on tour suggestions. We stayed at the Hilton near the Buda Castle and had a spectacular view of Pest and the Parliament from our room.
The hotel was located adjacent to St. Matthias Church and the Fisherman’s Bastion and we were delighted to find several excellent restaurants in the area as well. We signed up for the Andrassy Street walking tour, which takes you through the commercial district of the city. It was a magical late afternoon walk that was simply amazing. The walking tour included a visit to the Opera that featured a few sample arias sung by a young woman in period clothing; as well as a visit to a typical Budapest coffee house where we indulged ourselves with hearty desserts and coffee.
After our Budapest sojourn, Viking provided us with transfers to the airport as well as the services of Viking personnel to help us through the check-in process.
We applaud Viking for the beauty of its ships, the care offered to its clients and the smooth operation they run from the moment you book your cruise until you say your last goodbye. Thanks, Viking for an unforgettable week.
If you are interested in taking a Viking River Cruise, contact our partner and river cruise expert EuroEscapes.com
Written by Terri Fogarty and photos by Bill Fogarty for EuropeUpClose.com