Publication Date: June 15, 2013
My wife and I cruised along the River Danube between Budapest and Nuremburg in July 2012. We had chosen to travel with Viking River Cruises (VRC) and were embarked on their latest ship, Viking Embla, for its maiden voyage from Budapest. Our only previous river cruise had been along the Yangtse River and that before the Dam had been built.
Our flights from Heathrow to Budapest and return from Munich were part of the Viking River Cruises (VRC) package and both flights were British Airways scheduled flights.
The ' meet and greet' service at Budapest airport was excellent: as was both the transfer to the ship and check-in.
Viking Embla was moored directly opposite Budapest's Buda Castle ( once the Hungarian Royal palace) on the Buda side of the Danube...
The Viking Embla is a purpose built River Longship with accommodation on 3 levels for 190 guests.
Onboard there is a selection of accommodation ranging from Suites and staterooms with a balcony (called Verandas) to the smaller French Balcony staterooms which feature a floor to ceiling sliding glass door (no balcony) down to a small number of staterooms on the lowest deck with a half-heightwindow. For this river cruise we had chosen a 'Superior Veranda Stateroom', basically placing us on the upper accommodation deck level.All accommodation has deluxe amenities, premium toiletries (L'Occitane) and high-definition in room entertainment.
Passengers are each supplied with a personal wireless 'Tour Guide' receiver for their use on all the inclusive tours that VRC arrange.
Embla has a Main Restaurant which operates on a one sitting / open seating system, while the Aquavit Terrace offers an indoor/outdoor area at the bow of the ship for more casual dining at breakfast and lunch.
The Aquavit Terrace is effectively an extension of the Observation Lounge, which also incorporates the shipâ€TMs bar and entertainment area. It is here where, in addition to the limited entertainment programme, port talks and cultural lectures are given.
Viking Embla is well blessed with open deck space and more than sufficient good quality furnishings. One particular innovation that has been incorporated into the Viking Embla design is a â€TMretractableâ€TM Sun Deck features. On its journey along the Danube the Viking Embla often met a number of low bridges. In order to facilitate the safe navigation under such low obstacles the deck awning is lowered hydraulically along with the various masts. Even the Captainâ€TMs Bridge lowered and raised under a similar hydraulic system.
A considerable amount of time is spent on board with passengers enjoying the constantly changing scenery and the ship making its leisurely passage along the river between each of its itinerary destination towns and cities. Bridges have already been mentioned but on this particular river cruise there were also numerous locks and narrows that need to be navigated through.
Breakfast was served buffet style in both the Main Restaurant and on the Aquavit Terrace. There was an excellent selection of both hot and cold offerings: all traditional breakfast fare being on offer. Lunches were semi buffet style and again, available in both the Aquavit Terrace and the Main Restaurant.
Dinner was full waiter service on a one sitting, open seating arrangement and would follow the "early evening" Cruise Director's â€ following dayâ€TMs eventsâ€TM briefing in the lounge. Complimentary selected Wines, beers and soft drinks were served during both lunch and dinner.
We certainly found the cuisine on board perfectly satisfactory for the style of ship we were cruising on. Serving upwards of 190 passengers in one fast sitting is never going to offer high end cuisine nor should it be expected. Having said that though, what was produced was certainly substantial, variable in choice, particularly for dinner, and an alternative steak or salmon dish was always on offer. The boat was certainly pushed out on the Captainâ€TMs Gala Dinner Night.
Executive Chef Karl Heinz certainly conjured up some interesting regional dishes to tempt the palate and the attentive waiters ensured that copious quantities of acceptable wine were available. This wasnâ€TMt Cunard Grills but hey, no complaint, we didnâ€TMt starve.
This was a 7 night cruise and as originally stated, was sailing between Budapest in Hungary and Nuremburg, Germany. This itinerary crossed three countries borders while sailing north along the River Danube.
I trust that in the above I have given a taste of the Embla from this particular cruise. All the port visits were well guided and each made most interesting. As far as visiting the various places they were all actually intense despite being well planned. All credit to Viking River Cruises who, by day two, assessed the balance of passengers mobility needs and arranged separate transports for those with less difficulty walking in order that they were not hindered or slowed. Full marks there VRC.
But River cruising wasnâ€TMt all intense fast action million fact excursions. This was also about various lengths of time given to leisurely cruising along tranquil waterways, passing spectacular landscapes and passing unique, ever-changing vistas whether scenic or historical.
River cruising is not ocean cruising and should never be considered in the same light. River cruise ships are, by their very nature, not conducive to what ocean cruisers have come to expect. They are of course considerably smaller but, having said that, the newer ships are well designed and when factors are considered they certainly provide a comfortable platform to journey along sometimes tight rivers otherwise fascinating ports of call.
Their amenities are of such a level that one should not expect what one experiences on larger Ocean cruise liners. They do, however, certainly on Viking River Cruises, make the best of their limited space and organisation to provide a most attractive product.
Evening entertainment was limited but, to be perfectly frank, after some days excursions and early starts planned for the next day, after dinner entertainment would be the last item on many passengers minds.
Food and dining was good with many evenings offering regional favourites to supplement traditional dinner favourites.
Once or twice unscheduled stops were called for. These were explained to us as being necessary due to low levels of water in the river making navigation unsafe. To VRCâ€TMs credit, when this did happen there were prompt alternative coaching arrangements to get us on our scheduled tours.
River cruising offers an interesting alternative to ocean cruising and both my wife and myself thoroughly enjoyed this latest adventure. Indeed, so much so that we have booked further cruises with Viking River Cruises in 2013 and 2014. That in itself canâ€TMt be a bad recommendation for either the style of cruising or the company.
For us a river cruise once a year will probably be the norm as our great love is to be dancing out on the oceans. All the same, thank you Viking River Cruises, you have an excellent product and are obviously a brand leader.
A full review including the ports of call along the river Danube can be found on my own cruise blog....
Happy cruising everyone.