Stern's Guide to the Greatest Resorts of the World, Stern's Guide to the Cruise Vacation, Stern's Guide to European Riverboats and Hotel Barges, and The Indispensable Guide to Foreign Words and Phrases--by Steven B. Stern (Sponsored by Stern's Travel Guides, Ltd.)
In June of 2013 we took the Viking Aegir, one of Viking River Cruises newest class of vessels , referred to as”longships”. Our itinerary commenced in Budapest, Hungary terminating in Bucharest, Romania with visits along the way to Croatia, Serbia and Bulgaria.
Between 2012 and 2014, Viking will have introduced 24 of these “longships” into European river service. The name does not refer to the length of the ship( these ships being no longer than the other Viking vessels), but is a reference to the Viking longboats in the days of the Viking Norsemen, the owner of the cruise line being of Norwegian lineage.
The various classes of accommodations vary in size and comfort. On the lowest passenger deck are twenty-five 150-square-foot cabins with half-height windows and no balconies. Twenty-two staterooms measure 135 square feet and have French balconies; and thirty-nine 205-square-foot staterooms offer full-size verandas. The seven 274-square-foot Veranda Suites on the third passenger deck have a French balcony in the bedroom, and a full veranda in the living room., a lounging area with an additional TV, a couch, two chairs, a coffee table, and a make-up area which can doubles as a desk for your lap top. (There is complimentary Wi-Fi throughout the ship). Those requiring more space can opt for one of the two 445-square-foot Explorer Suites which include a separate living room that leads out to a wraparound veranda with 270-degree views.
All staterooms have optional twin bed/queen bed configurations with duvets, 40-inch, flat-screen TVs with infotainment systems featuring movies on demand plus CNBC, CNN, FOX, National Geographic and ESPN, telephones, electronic safes, refrigerators, hair dryers, refrigerators, and both 220-and 110-volt outlets. Bathrobes and slippers are available on request.
Common areas include the reception lobby and concierge desk, a small library, a computer station with two computers, the main dining room , the all-purpose lounge and bar, the sun deck with a walking track, miniature golf, shuffleboard, giant chess set, herb garden and lounges and tables for sitting out and enjoying the passing scenery. The most innovative feature is the Aquavit Terrace. Situated at the bow of the ship adjacent to the lounge, it is a venue for light meals with a protected glassed-in area and a section with open-air seating. To our disappointment, there was no fitness facility, no sauna or whirlpool.
Breakfast and Lunch are served buffet style in the main dining room with the option to have table service for hot dishes from the kitchen. Both meals are also offered at a buffet on the Aquavit Terrace. A multicourse dinner is served in the main dining room commencing with an amuse bouche, followed by a choice of two appetizers, a salad, a soup, three entrees ( a meat, a fish or fowl and a vegetarian choice), a cheese tray and two desserts. There is open seating dining at all meals with tables for two, four, six, eight and ten. House wines, beer and soft drinks are gratis at mealtimes, but are subject to a charge outside the restaurants. Coffee, tea, espresso, hot chocolate, and cookies were available outside the lounge around the clock, and ice machines were located down the halls on all three decks.
Overall we were quite pleased with the dining experience, superior to many other riverboats. The offerings were well prepared and the service was excellent.
After dinner the ships resident musician played music for listening and dancing. Several nights entertainers are brought aboard from shore. One night we enjoyed an outstanding Hungarian band with dancers and singers. Other evenings, musical groups from Croatia, Serbia and Bulgaria performed. Actually all of the groups were superior to those we had experienced on other riverboats. Other evenings when we were sailing, passengers participated in games such as musical trivia and Liars’ club.
The ships can accommodate up to 200 passengers, about 33% more than most other English-speaking, European riverboats. Since the ships are not much larger than the others, the result is more crowded seating in the dining rooms and a filled-to-the-brim lounge during lectures and entertainments. However, the adjacent Aquavit Terrace handles some of the overflow.
Of course, the main reason passengers take the cruise is to visit the various countries. . We opted for this cruise in order to experience an area of the Danube we had not previously explored, having already cruised on the Rhine, Moselle, Main, Volga, Rhone, Saone, Seine and the portion of the upper Danube between Nuremberg and Budapest. Culturally this was certainly different from Western Europe. During the 20th century, these countries had been seized by the Germans, bombed by the allies, dealt over to the Russians, and engaged in wars amongst themselves.
Interesting city tours conducted by knowledgeable guides were offered at each stop. We especially enjoyed the excursion to the equestrian center in Kalosca, Hungary, where expert horsemen provided an amazing and entertaining performance followed by covered wagon rides through the ranch for the guests.
Cruise prices are a bit illusory. Although the cruise line prints brochure prices, in reality, most people can get the two for one price or a similar discount, unless they book at the last minute or after the ships are almost full. Therefore, I am going to give the two for one price (double these for the brochure prices). For a seven night cruise from Budapest to Bucharest, the least expensive cabin depending on the month will go for $2,356 up to $3,456 for two persons. The balcony cabin from $3,456 to $4,456; the veranda suites from $5,356 to $6,756 and the two Explorer Suites from $7,856 to $9,956. Inasmuch as the brochure prices are twice as much, one would certainly want to know how to obtain the two for one price.
A testament to the cruise line’s extensive (and ingenious) marketing is the fact that it is able to continuously fill its ever-expanding fleet to the point that those wishing to sail must book well in advance. Viking has become the most well-known name for river cruising in the U.S. It will be interesting to see how the company will fare in its entry next year into the ocean-going cruise market.
(author of Stern’s Guide to European Riverboats and Hotel Barges and Stern’s Guide to the Cruise Vacation)