Waltzing down the Danube on a River Cruise – Visit 5 countries in 8 days on a relaxing and enriching river cruise with Viking River Cruises. I loved my time on-board Viking Vilhjalm as we sailed down the river Danube from Passau to Budapest.
Viking River Cruises
Vilhjalm – Name of Norman Rulers
Vilhjalm Langaspjót, or William I Longsword as he is also known, was the half-brother of Kadlin and the son of “Rolf the Ganger,” a Viking chief and first Duke of Normandy. Following in his famous father’s footsteps, William ruled Normandy from 927 until 942.
Regular readers will know that I’m a bit of a cruise addict – it all started five years ago when I first sailed around the Mediterranean, and before that as I was lucky enough to sail on ocean liners (pre-cruise liners) all over the world. Since then I have undertaken several cruises every year, both river and ocean, and it’s certainly a very pleasurable way of travelling. You can unwind and have a wonderful holiday where the ship takes you to a new port without the need to check in and of hotels and brave the check in and security queues for flights, trains or coaches. You board, unpack and are taken to numerous exciting destinations whilst having your own space for the length of the voyage. For me, that is the beauty of taking a cruise, whether it be an ocean cruise or a river cruise.
I’ve been on ocean cruises and river cruises, and they are quite different. I find river cruising more intimate, and perhaps it’s a good entry-level way of “travelling on water” for those aren’t sure if a cruise is for them. Whereas you get “sea days” on an ocean cruise, days where you’re sailing and aren’t docking in any ports, you will usually visit a new destination every day on a river cruise. My “Danube Waltz” river cruise with Viking was a truly enjoyable and memorable experience, with a new destination to discover every day. Viking is probably my favourite cruise company – I love their “Scandi” chic style of ships, both ocean and long ships, and their no-nonsense approach that includes WiFi and included excursions, as well as the very high standard of on-board accommodation, and their food is always exemplary. Sailing on the Danube on Viking Vilhjalm was a fabulous and culturally rewarding experience, and my Danube River Cruise was no exception, being one of the best I’ve been on.
As well as the obvious excitement and enrichment of visiting new destinations, as I mentioned before the food on Viking is always fabulous, with fresh salads, innovative and regional menus on offer, and the little added extras such as freshly made cookies and sweet pastries which are always available 24hrs a day next to the coffee and tea stations. Every day our executive chef Roman Paput would share his personal recommendations with us, which is a great way to try new dishes and explore regional cuisine. The on-board entertainment was also wonderful, with local shows and singers boarding the ship and fun quiz evenings, hosted by the effervescent Terry Turnbull (Programme Director) Terry would showcase a Port Talk and Briefing before arriving at each new destination, as well as talking us through all the scenic cruises as we sailed down the Danube.
I’ll share a full “Fact Box” below about the costs, ships and other incidentals, but for now I would like to share some of the destinations and excursions that I visited and undertook, along with a photo gallery. I took advantage of all of the included excursions, which were extremely inclusive and well planned, as well as two optional excursions in Vienna and Budapest.
Danube Waltz Itinerary
Day 1 and 2: Passau, Germany – Set at the confluence of the Inn, Ilz and Danube Rivers, enchanting Passau is home to elegant coloured buildings, graceful arcades and some fabulous shops, especially chocolate shops. Founded by the Celts more than 2,000 years ago, Passau is one of Bavaria’s oldest cities and it was a fabulous way to start my Danube waltz river cruise. St Stephen’s Cathedral was also included on our walking tour and the ceiling frescos/paintings and ornate organ was simply stunning.
Day 3: Linz, Austria – Originally known as Lentia in its days as a 1st-century Roman castle-settlement, Linz is today’s provincial capital of Upper Austria. I didn’t take advantage of the included excursion of Linz but chose to take the other included tour to Český Krumlov in the Czech Replublic (where I have been before but during the winter) Český Krumlov is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the town is simply breathtaking and it was lovely to explore this riverside town.
Day 4: Krems, Austria – The crown jewel of the Wachau Valley is the splendid Benedictine Abbey of Göttweig, a working monastery for more than 900 years, which I visited on an included excursion. Göttweig Abbey was fascinating and sits high above the valley with beautiful, far-reaching views.
Day 5: Vienna, Austria – Today’s included excursion was a bus ride along the Ringstrasse, which replaced the city walls in the mid-19th century. From the bus I saw some of the city’s baroque architecture, including the world-famous Opera House, St. Stephen’s Cathedral and Hofburg Palace. In the evening, I went on an optional excursion, to the Mozart and Strauss Concert by The Vienna Residence Orchestra. The concert was wonderful and included a glass of champagne in the interval, as well as magical nocturnal journey through Vienna by night.
Day 6: Bratislava, Slovakia – Bratislava was a huge surprise, such a beautifully elegant city with stunning architecture and quirky little shops. The capital of Slovakia, Bratislava is filled with lovingly restored baroque city palaces and dominated by an enormous castle 300 feet above the Danube, which I saw as soon as we were moored in the centre of the city. One of the funniest highlights on our walking tour was the “ČUMIL – Man at work” – a bronze statue that is sunk into the ground. The story says that your wishes will come true if you touch the head of the man, but you must keep your wish a secret forever.
Day 7 and 8: Budapest, Hungary – We sailed into Budapest at night, and this is has to be one of the most beautiful scenic sails I have ever done. Budapest by night is simply breathtaking and the city didn’t disappoint by day either. I went on the included walking tour in the morning, and then treated myself to the GRAND MARKET: TASTE OF HUNGARY & PANCAKE KITCHEN excursion in the afternoon, which included a tram ride on one of the iconic yellow trams. Part of the excursion is to visit the market hall, followed by a lesson in preparing a favourite local dish. The city’s Grand Market Hall is an emporium of food stalls and countless other local goods. A sprawling three-story marketplace, the historic hall was built in the late 19th century.
I loved the walking tour, where I had the chance to taste locally produced pickles, sausage, wine, honey and other specialities. After some free time to browse, we met in at the restaurant Fakanál, which translates into “wooden spoon,” a name which befits its home-style cooking. Here, I enjoyed a demonstration of Hungarian palacsinta, which is a crepe-like pancake that is served with a sweet or savoury filling. We all helped to mix the batter and prepare the filling, before sampling the results. The morning’s excursion took in highlights of the once separate towns of Buda and Pest, starting with Pest’s National Opera House and historic Heroes’ Square. In Buda, I walked along Castle Hill to Fishermen’s Bastion and Matthias Church.
One last thing to share, I was very moved at seeing the Sixty Shoes of Budapest; the shoes on the Danube Bank is a memorial conceived by film director Can Togay, he created it on the east bank of the Danube River with sculptor Gyula Pauer* to honour the Jews who were killed by fascist Arrow Cross militiamen in Budapest during World War II. They were ordered to take off their shoes, and were shot at the edge of the water so that their bodies fell into the river and were carried away. They were located just 5 minutes walk away from the ship, and although very sad, it’s well worth visiting them. *The sculptor created sixty pairs of period-appropriate shoes out of iron. The shoes are attached to the stone embankment, and behind them lies a 40 metre long, 70 cm high stone bench. At three points are cast iron signs, with the following text in Hungarian, English, and Hebrew: “To the memory of the victims shot into the Danube by Arrow Cross militiamen in 1944–45. Erected 16 April 2005.”
I WAS A GUEST OF VIKING RIVER CRUISES, AND ALL OF MY TRANSPORT, TRANSFERS, FOOD, ACCOMMODATION AND EXCURSIONS WERE INCLUDED IN THIS COMPLIMENTARY PRESS TRIP; ALL VIEWS AND OPINIONS REMAIN MY OWN AND I WAS NOT ASKED TO WRITE A FAVOURABLE REVIEW, NOR WAS I PAID TO ATTEND THIS TRIP.
With thanks to all the ship’s crew who made my voyage so enjoyable, especially Thomas Preidelt, Hotel Manager; Alexandar Jovic, Maitre D’; Miriam Kajuchova, Housekeeper; Terry Turnbill, Programme Director; Roman Paput, Executive Chef; Marian Sulak, Captain and thanks to our two regular waiters, Aryen and Jay, Milan the lethal cocktail maker and Jiggs the omelette maker extraordinaire.
Cruise packages in a standard stateroom in April 2019 start from £1,195 per person.
The package includes:
* One included excursion in every port of call
* Complimentary Wi-Fi
* Beer, wine & soft drinks with on board dinner & lunch
* Other included beverages such as specialty coffees, teas & bottled water
* Port taxes & fees
* Airport transfers
Viking Vilhjalm Longship
The Viking Vilhjalm sails the Danube Waltz and Oberammergau with Salzburg river cruise itineraries. The ship
was christened in Amsterdam on March 1st, 2016.
There are 95 outside staterooms
(25 standard staterooms, 22
French Balcony Staterooms, 39 Veranda Staterooms, 7 Veranda Suites and 2 Explorer Suites)
There is a sun-deck with 360-degree views and shaded sitting area, organic herb garden, solar panels, putting green and walking track.
The ship, as with all Viking Longships boasts an Aquavit Terrace & Lounge, a revolutionary indoor/outdoor viewing area for al-fresco dining.
There is a library and an on-board shop. A lift from the Middle to Upper deck only. Free WiFi, laundry service, 40” flat-screen TV with infotainment system featuring movies on demand.
The ship has ecologically friendly hybrid engines producing less vibrations for a smoother ride.