Long before Steve’s cancer was confirmed in March, we had already booked our Viking River Cruise in Central Europe. We’d heard details about Viking River Cruises from Rocky and Marsha, whom we’d met during our train ride across the Canadian rockies on the Rocky Mountaineer last year. Although Steve’s treatments cut things a bit close, his doctor cleared us for this cruise and we were even hopeful that 14 days of “binge eating” might put some weight back on his bones.
Between the two of us, Steve has always been the cruise lover – me, not so much. We’ve been on several ocean cruises and I thought a river cruise would be just another expensive boat ride. Wow, was I wrong! Being aboard a Viking longship for 14 days turned me into a hardcore river cruise fan. We took their Grand European Tour aboard Viking Bragi, one of the ships specifically designed to navigate rivers with low bridges and narrow locks. We docked at 14 destinations along the Danube, Main (pronounced “mine”) and Rhine Rivers between Budapest and Amsterdam, visiting the countries of Hungary, Austria, Germany, and the Netherlands.
The Viking longboats are much smaller than ocean cruise ships, and with less than 200 guests and around 50 crew members they are not at all crowded. They lack the swimming pools, casinos and grand ballrooms of the ocean liners, but are plenty elegant. Dining is casual with no formal nights and only one seating for dinner. The setup really promotes meeting new people, as folks can sit wherever they wish for each meal. Our stateroom was slightly larger than the ones we’ve stayed in on large cruise lines, and it had several amenities we enjoyed – how about a heated bathroom floor? Nice!
Our cruise included a guided excursion in each port of call, and there were other optional excursions (for a fee) to choose from to further maximize time at each destination. We experienced organized and informative city tours with well-trained guides using high-tech wireless devices so we could hear their every word. The way they organized groups on the buses and tours made everything easy-peasy during our time off the ship.
We were impressed with the QuietVox receivers and earpieces that were used during our city tours. Before each tour began we activated our receivers by touching them to the paddle for our assigned group, which synched them to a unique frequency with our guide. The device enabled me and other “wanderers” to take pictures up to a block away without missing a word the guide said, even in loud and crowded places. These devices are the wave of the future for guided tours!
On cruise days Kane, the entertainment coordinator, conducted informative lectures related to historical and cultural topics specific to the current area of our travels. We learned about the history of the 68 locks that we traversed, the Rhine-Main-Danube canal that links the North Sea to the Black Sea and other information about the water and geography of the Netherlands. Each night before dinner he gave port talks with an overview of the next day’s port of call, as well as highlights of must-see landmarks and hidden food gems. The master chef also participated, giving us an insight into the preparation of the upcoming dinner and what to expect throughout the meal.
An exciting part of the cruise was that Steve discovered as time went on that his jaw and throat were feeling better and he was able to eat salads. His goal on this cruise was to gain weight, and he ate everything in sight! But because we also did miles of walking on our city tours, he gained only a couple of pounds. On the other hand, I gained several pounds and have a lot of work to do…
We met many interesting people and forged friendships on this trip. Among them was David, a cancer survivor who’s condition several years ago was very similar to Steve’s. He gave Steve much appreciated information and inspiration. Another person we came across was Ivan, who shared a cell with senator John McCain as a Vietnam POW. He had quite a story to tell about his life during and after the war.
This was our first time in Europe, and our first river cruise. The itinerary allowed us to get a glimpse of central Europe and a good sampling of its regions and cultures. The pace was comfortable and allowed us to relax and enjoy a part of the world we had never seen before.
There was never a dull moment as we cruised along, with lots to see and take pictures of on both sides of the river:
And that’s just for starters! There is more to come about our country stops!
Next up: Grand European River Cruise – Hungary