Recapping our Grand European Tour with Viking River Cruises
It has been two weeks now since I finished my 15-day Grand European Tour aboard Viking River Cruises’ Viking Vidar and Viking Lofn. One of Viking’s longest (but not the longest ) European itineraries, this voyage from Amsterdam to Budapest is the crown jewel of Viking’s Danube itineraries, combining a cruise along this legendary waterway with trips along the Rhine and Main Rivers.
Of course, this journey was not without its little hiccups. I got stuck in Longyearbyen, Svalbard up in the Far Arctic when fog closed down the airport there for two days, which forced me to miss the first three days of the river cruise. That’s my bad for scheduling two voyages so close together.
After three flights and one overnight stay at an airport hotel, I finally joined in Cologne, Germany on Day 3 – just in time to discover that low water on the Danube would necessitate a ship-swap in Nuremberg a few days later. Mother Nature has been messing up sailings along the Danube ever since. Viking handled the entire situation very well, and I was actually glad that the incident happened in the first place: it let me see Viking’s positive, immediate response to what is, ultimately, a situation that is tough to predict and well beyond the control of the line.
Our full Live Voyage Report:
As with any good recap, I always like to take the time to sift through some of the questions readers emailed in during the voyage. Most of these dealt with the low water situation on the Danube, which I addressed in a separate article on River Cruise Advisor last week – but which certainly still merit a response here:
How come Viking didn’t know the water was going to be low before your cruise started?
Water levels are very difficult to predict. Asking Viking (or any river cruise line) to predict the water levels along the enormous stretch of water that the Grand European itinerary traverses is akin to me asking you to predict next week’s winning lottery numbers. One good prolonged bout of rain is all the Danube would have needed to raise water levels between Regensburg and Passau to acceptable levels. That never happened.
So, if water levels are so iffy, why can’t they just sail somewhere else?
Herein lies the difference between ocean cruising and river cruising. An ocean cruise can divert when inclement weather pops up; witness hurricane season in the Caribbean for proof of that. A river cruise, by definition, is far more constrained. Think of it as a train: the train is limited to the track that it runs on. Run out of track, and your train stops in a hurry.
Was there a difference between the first ship and the second?
Sure, but not a measurable one. Viking Vidar and Viking Lofn are both nearly-identical Viking Longships. They offer the same style, design, look and feel. Both were launched this year, and in fact, the only difference I could find between the two was the carpet pattern outside the small Library on Deck 3. Viking Vidar’s was blue with what looks like latitude and longitude swaths cut through it, while Viking Lofn’s was a plain, mostly solid colour.
Now, the hardest part about switching ships is the crew. Even by the time I had to leave – mere days after I’d arrived – I’d already made friends with many of the crew onboard Viking Vidar. So it is a bit of a disconnect to switch to another ship ( an identical one, at that) and see a different bartender walking towards you. Or different waitresses in the dining room. But, like any cruise, that quickly fades. I though the crew of the Viking Lofn were every bit as good as the crew on Viking Vidar.
What was your favorite port?
I never like to say if I have a favorite, because I love Europe – all of the ports are my favorite. I do have to admit to being pleasantly surprised by Rothenburg, which I explored as an optional shore excursion that Viking offers from Wurzburg. Even on a quiet, rainy Saturday afternoon, Rothenburg was the quintessential storybook European town. I’d love to come back here in the winter to see what I can only assume is a fabulous Christmas Market setting.
Is it worth doing the Grand European tour? My husband and I are worried about the time we’d need to be away from work.
This reflects a very interesting mindset. To an Australian, two weeks in Europe would be unthinkably short. To an American, two weeks in Europe borders on the limit of what most people can reasonably request time off for.
The Grand European Tour is a fantastic itinerary. If you’ve never been river cruising in Europe before, this is the one I’d recommend most highly, simply for its sheer variety of ports, countries, and cultures. In two weeks, you are treated to adventures in cities and towns in the Netherlands, Germany, Austria, Slovakia, and Hungary. You get to see small villages and bustling metropolises; modern meccas and historic storybook villages of old.
It’s also more economical to do this Grand European Tour. If you pick one of the weeklong sailings (which are also splendid), chances are good that you’ll like the experience so much that you’ll want to come back. But when you do, you’ve got to pay for another set of airfares. Why not just fly over once and do it all in one big sweep?
But – and I can’t stress this enough – plan a few extra days in Amsterdam and Budapest. Not only does it safeguard you from unexpected flight delays, it also gives you the opportunity to really discover these two great capitals of culture.
The Viking Difference
If I am being honest, I keep going back time after time to sail with Viking because I selfishly like their river cruises. They’re comfortable, well-thought out, moderately inclusive and reasonably priced. Viking is also a tremendous way to see Europe.
Throughout each of my voyages with Viking, the line has never ceased to impress me. Viking is constantly tweaking their onboard product, adding new tours, making existing ones complimentary, refining their menus, and even adjusting the movies and music they feature on the interactive television set included with every stateroom.
Managing the kind of growth that Viking has seen over the past four years isn’t easy – but the venerable river cruise line founded in 1997 by Torstein Hagen has done so with a level of skill that is surprising even for this well-managed company. The consistency in Viking’s river cruise product is nothing short of impressive.
Far from resting on their laurels, Viking is continuing to innovate. They’ve got another batch of Viking Longships coming out next spring, plus two new ocean liners for their Viking Cruises brand. Their itinerary roster is expanding: cruises along Egypt’s Nile River are back as of January 2016, and the line is veerrryyy tentatively returning to the Ukraine, offering departures from Kiev to Odessa in May and June of next year. There are also new sailings in Burma (Myanmar), and a brand-new 10-night Bavaria to Budapest itinerary that will begin next year, operating from Nuremberg to the Hungarian capital.
After sailing for nearly two weeks straight with Viking, low water event and all, I get the feeling that the line is only just getting started.
Our Live Voyage Report from onboard Viking River Cruises’ Grand European Tour has sadly come to a close, but more adventures on the waterways of Europe are forthcoming! Be sure to follow along with our adventures on Twitter @deckchairblog.