The Beauty of the Viking Longships
Aaron Saunders, River Cruise Advisor
Wednesday, July 13, 2016
Four motorcoaches pulled up on a dusty road outside of the ship this afternoon. I looked at them, then at the Hungarian family taking a picnic in the shade under the trees. It looked hot. I stepped outside the ship. It was hot. I looked back at the air conditioned splendour of my ship. And I decided to stay.
Yes, I’m electing to skip our last port of call – Kalocsa, Hungary – in favor of relaxing aboard Viking River Cruises’ Viking Embla. With the mercury rising again to 37°C by this afternoon, and the humidity piling up on top of that, I decided to stay onboard.
There were other reasons for my decision: today is our last day aboard Viking Embla. It’s my last chance to fully enjoy this beautiful ship, which is half of the reason I come here in the first place – to experience the joy of river cruising.
There’s another reason: though this is my last day aboard Viking Embla, it’s not the last day of our Passage to Eastern Europe adventure. On this itinerary, Viking includes a one-night pre-cruise stay in Bucharest, Romania and a two-night post-cruise stay in Budapest, Hungary at the Budapest Hilton.
Tomorrow, Viking is giving us a complimentary six-hour city tour of Budapest, transferring us from the ship to the hotel in the process. Our luggage will be waiting for us in our hotel rooms, and Viking has already provided us with a full list of optional excursions available for Friday, along with our flight times, transfer times, and relevant information for our departures back to North America on Saturday.
Today, though, began with customs formalities: at 6:30 a.m., we came alongside in Mohacs, Hungary for a face-to-face passport check. This is not because we’re entering Hungary, but moreso because we’re entering the Schengen Zone that a number of EU countries are members of. And with the issues facing refugees and migrants in the EU as of late, customs officials aren’t taking any chances.
Crew were called first, followed by guests in the 100 Corridor, 200 Corridor, and 300 Corridor. The entire process took maybe an hour, and we were underway again by 7:30 a.m. Being up at 6:00 anyway, I wasn’t inconvenienced at all, and we were warned it would be early at last night’s briefing. Still, it’s a pain, but an unavoidable one that is imposed on Viking and every other river cruise line.
That’s one of the primary differences with this Eastern Danube voyage compared with its Western counterpart: lots of passport and immigration checks. This is our first face-to-face check, but our passports have been stamped in and out of each country we’ve visited over the past week. If you’re short on available passport pages, you might want to get yours renewed before making the journey; I reckon I’ll have close to 10 new stamps by the time I leave the EU on Saturday.
Here’s what’s happening onboard today:
- 6:00 – 11:00 AM: Café Breakfast. Coffee and pastries are available at the coffee station in front of the Lounge.
- 6:30 – 10:00 AM: Continental Breakfast. A selection of beverages and breakfast items are available on the Aquavit Terrace.
- 7:00 – 9:30 AM: Breakfast. Enjoy a buffet breakfast and a choice of dishes cooked to order in The Restaurant.
- 9:30 – 10:30 AM: Wheelhouse Tour. Join Captain Boris and Hotel Manager Katja for a tour of the Wheelhouse. Please isng up at the Reception Desk if you’re interested.
- 10:30 AM: Disembarkation Briefing. Please meet Program Director Sonya in The Lounge for details about disembarkation on Thursday and your stay in Budapest.
- 11:15 AM: Post Prague Briefing in the Lounge.
- 12:00 – 1:30 PM: Lunch. Lunch is served in the Restaurant.
- 12:00 – 1:30 PM: Café Lunch. If you prefer, enjoy a lighter, buffet-style lunch in The Lounge.
- 12:30 PM: Welcome to Kalocsa. Viking Embla arrives in Kalocsa, Hungary.
- 1:30 – 5:00 PM: Shore Excursion: Kalocsa and Puszta. Take a guided city tour. Enjoy a performance of traditional Puszta horsemanship.
- 5:30 – 7:00 PM: Cocktail Hour. Enjoy a drink and some live music in The Lounge.
- 6:30 PM: Back on Board. Please be back onboard Viking Embla by this time. We will depart Kalocsa for Budapest shortly thereafter.
- 6:30 PM: Captain’s Cocktail Party. Join Captain Boris for a farewell toast to celebrate your Viking journey, new friends and memories made.
- 6:45 PM: Daily Briefing and Farewell. Please meet Program Director Sonya in the Lounge to bid you farewell.
- 7:00 PM: Farewell Dinner. Join fellow travellers in the Restaurant for a farewell dinner.
- 7:00 PM: Bar Menu. Enjoy our “Smorergersboard” on the Aquavit Terrace.
- 9:00 – 10:00 PM: Evening Entertainment. “A Hungarian Evening.”
Of course, this relaxing day onboard Viking Embla is also a great time to answer some reader questions that have filtered in over the past week:
Which direction is better – Romania to Hungary, or reverse?
I’m glad I did this journey from Romania to Hungary. While Romania is positively modernized compared to worse-off Bulgaria, the progression of ports of call has meant that things have gotten more dramatic and developed as the week has gone on. I think this is particularly true for our guests that are staying on until Amsterdam; I think it might be a let-down to sail the reverse itinerary (ending in Bucharest) if people haven’t aligned their expectations properly.
Can you use Euros in these ports? What about U.S. Dollars?
It depends. Euros are sometimes accepted by shops, but most usually by street vendors selling their wares. U.S. Dollars are pretty much not accepted at all, unless you get a very willing street vendor to go along with the idea.
I have to admit this isn’t a huge shopping itinerary; when I sail the western stretches of the Danube, I end up coming back with clothing, new shoes, and the odd souvenir as I wind my way through Germany and Austria. On this stretch of the Danube, I’ve bought nothing so far except the odd beverage ashore or a local newspaper.
If you feel compelled to buy something, I’d use a credit card or pull out a small amount of local currency. Using money changing services can be a real pain, plus you’re going to lose a lot in the conversion.
What about water levels?
Water levels aren’t typically an issue on this stretch of the Danube; the real problems tend to occur just west of Budapest, and in the areas around the German cities of Passau and Regensburg. On my sailing, water levels have been very good, with no issues whatsoever.
The Viking Longships
The more I sail aboard Viking’s elegant Longships, the more convinced I remain that they’re some of the best river cruise ships afloat. With each successive sailing, I’m also convinced that Viking really gets it: the idea of what good service is, what great design is, and of what makes the ideal cruise vacation.
Look at the average stateroom aboard Viking’s Longships: you’ve got multiple U.S. and European-style power outlets; something that many competing river cruise lines lack. You’ve got heated bathroom floors, with variable temperature-control. Again, most competing lines don’t even attempt to offer that. Mirrors are anti-fogging by default, closets light up when you open them, and the interactive television system pumps its audio through high-quality speakers hidden in the ceiling.
The Viking Longships help offset their reliance on the ship’s diesel engines and generators (which are whisper quiet, by the way) thanks to the installation of solar panels mounted to the top of the ship’s dual Explorer Suites. Herbs are grown onboard on the Sun Deck, and a Living Garden graces the foot of the atrium staircase.
Over the course of my sailings on numerous Viking Longships, I’ve seen Viking:
- Change the design of the bathroom shower doors from angled to straight, alter the showerhead and faucet design three times, change the toilet design twice, button location three times, alternate the countertop colour four times (that I can count), and use three different types of floor texture. They also changed the wall materials three times, from white tile to “transparent” frosted glass (that one didn’t last long) to faux marble.
- Bedside lighting controls changed three times in terms of position, and twice in terms of materials (the first switches aboard Viking Odin were slate-grey).
- Viking has used three different headboard designs, and two different designs for the inset television system. It has also used two different types of flat-panel TV: Sony’s on the earliest ships, and Samsung’s on later vessels.
- The line has used two different desk/vanity designs, three different bedside table designs, three different kinds of drawers, and two different kinds of in-stateroom stools and chairs.
- Two different kinds of materials have been used for the closet and bathroom doors. The first Longships initially had seafoam-green frosted glass doors.
- Viking changed the toiletries this year from the previous brand, L’Occitane, to Freyja to better match the toiletries provided aboard Viking Star and Viking Sea, the line’s first two oceangoing ships.
And that’s just the stateroom changes!
So why am I rattling off a laundry list of small, rather minute changes made between successive Viking Longships? Because the company truly cares what its guests think, and guest feedback has been responsible for all of the above changes.
Make no mistake about it: these changes cost Viking money. It would have been cheaper for the line to just keep the ships as they were. After all, the first four Viking Longships were truly spectacular. But that’s not the Viking way.
I see the same dedication in the way Viking continually tweaks its itineraries, menus, and on-shore programs. It’s encouraging, and exactly why I enjoy sailing with the line – no matter where we dock, or what I do during the day.
Our Voyage Report from onboard Viking River Cruises’ Viking Embla in Eastern Europe will continue tomorrow from Budapest, Hungary! Be sure to follow along on twitter @deckchairblog or using the hashtag #LiveVoyageReport.
Viking's Passage to Eastern Europe
|Day 1 & 2||Bucharest, Romania|
|Day 3||Veliko Tarnovo & Arbanassi, Bulgaria|
|Day 4||Vidin, Bulgaria|
|Day 5||Cruising the Iron Gates|
|Day 6||Belgrade, Serbia|
|Day 7||Vukovar & Osijek, Croatia|
|Day 8||Kalocsa, Hungary|
|Day 9||Budapest, Hungary|
|Day 10||Budapest, Hungary|
|Day 11||Recapping our Journey|