Reflections in Bavaria
Aaron Saunders, Live Voyage Reports
December 6, 2014
They say all good things must come to an end, and today it’s the end of the line here onboard Viking River Cruises’ Viking Baldur. Earlier this morning, we arrived in Passau, Germany for one last day of river cruising splendour and exploration ashore.
Passau is one of my absolute favorite cities along the Danube. The end of the historic town is a quaint little public park. In the summer, people picnic here. In the fall, kids run through fallen leaves while others jog and walk around the cyclist and pedestrian pathways. In winter, the park is sleepy and quiet, filled with casual strolling folks bundled in warm winter coats.
This park is also the very tip of Passau, and it is where the Danube, Inn and Ilz rivers meet. It’s no wonder that Passau is also referred to as Dreiflüssestadt – the City of Three Rivers.
If you’ve been following along, you can probably guess how today went: Christmas Market, Gluhwein, shopping, more Christmas Market, more Gluhwein. During spring, summer and fall, there is much to see and do here in Passau, but in the winter – particularly on these early December sailings – I truly believe the focus should be solely on the Christmas Markets. After all, the museums and historic monuments aren’t going anywhere – but the Christmas Markets will disappear by Christmas Eve, not to return for another year. Get them all in while you can!
Viking is offering guests one very interesting opportunity: the chance to hear the Organ Concert at Passau’s imposing (and beautiful) Dom. St. Stephan – or St. Stephen’s Cathedral. Done in an unusually bright and cheery Baroque style, the Cathedral has stood on this spot since 1688. One of its main highlights is the Cathedral’s organ, which is the largest in the world with 17,774 pipes and 233 registers. If that wasn’t enough, the Cathedral also has eight bells, including one 5300kg bell that was cast in 1733.
During the summer months, guests can take in an organ concert. Those arriving after October were traditionally out of luck. But, today is the first day I’ve ever experienced here in the winter months where the organ concert will go on, largely just for the guests of the Viking Baldur, which is – as far as I can tell – the only river cruise ship in town today. Does Viking have a hand in getting the Cathedral to open its doors in the winter months? I’m not sure. Either way, guests aboard Viking Baldur are in for a real treat today!
Some photos of our time here in Passau:
Of course, this isn’t just the end of one cruise for me, but the end of a much longer journey that began nearly two weeks ago in Bordeaux, France. It was there that I embarked Viking Forseti for a week of wine-filled pleasures in one of France’s most spectacular regions. I then flew to Budapest, Hungary and embarked Viking Baldur for a week of Christmas-y delights. While the one constant of my entire journey were the Viking Longships – which are more similar than not – the one thing I was not expecting was just how immersive each river cruise was.
Let me put it this way: if you take an ocean cruise, the onboard product in the Caribbean will be fairly similar in Alaska, which will be fairly similar to the Mediterranean. There will be little tweaks and adjustments, of course, but by and large, the onboard experience will be predictable.
With these two Viking river cruises, I found a world of difference – and that’s a good thing.
In France, menus were printed in French with English subtitles. I love that, and I would like to see something similar for the line’s Danube voyages. Why not put the menu in German with English subtitles?
In France, we were treated to wine tastings and even an on-shore dinner in a local Chateau that must have cost the company dearly. Here on the Danube, we feasted on authentic local cuisine that was set up in various tasting stations located throughout Viking Baldur’s Restaurant, Lounge and Galley. Excursions that once came with a surcharge (like Salzburg) are now provided complimentary. Attractions that used to be closed (like the organ concert here in Passau) have now been opened for Viking’s guests.
In short, the entire Viking product has been tailored for the destination in which they sail. Save for the Captain’s Welcome and Farewell dinners and the past-guest cocktail party, not a single lecture, event or culinary option was repeated. Wines were local and specific to both sailings. My appreciation of Viking’s product has always been very high, but seeing the extent that Viking is going to in order to craft unique experiences for their guests reminds me very much of a high-end luxury line. They seem closer to the Taucks, Hapag-Lloyd’s and Silversea’s of this world in terms of what they are providing now than at any time in the past. They’re doing it quietly and discreetly, but the evidence is there. You’re getting a lot of bang for your buck.
Our full 14-day journey:
- Viking Forseti Day 1: Bordeaux, France
- Viking Forseti Day 2: Pauillac, France
- Viking Forseti Day 3: Blaye, France
- Viking Forseti Day 4: Libourne, France
- Viking Forseti Day 5: Bordeaux, France
- Viking Forseti Day 6: Cadillac, France
- Viking Forseti Day 7: Bordeaux, France
- Viking Baldur Day 1: Kempinski Hotel Budapest
- Viking Baldur Day 2: Embarking Viking Baldur
- Viking Baldur Day 3: Budapest, Hungary
- Viking Baldur Day 4: Bratislava, Slovakia
- Viking Baldur Day 5: Vienna, Austria
- Viking Baldur Day 6: Durnstein & Melk, Austria
- Viking Baldur Day 7: Linz & Salzburg, Austria
Tomorrow, the onward journey begins. Guests will leave Viking Baldur and transfer by coach for two hours to Munich Airport for their flights home, or perhaps extend their stay for three additional days in Prague as part of Viking’s post-cruise programme. It will no doubt give them time to reflect on all that they have seen and done in just seven short days.
What is perhaps more amazing is that so many people are discovering Viking’s charms. Since 2012, they’ve launched an aggressive newbuild campaign, and new Viking Longships are hitting the water every year. Another 12 will launch this coming March, along with Viking’s first foray into ocean cruising – Viking Star – which makes her debut in the spring of 2015.
That Viking are able to keep their product consistent is nothing short of impressive. That I am able to notice subtle tweaks not just to the Viking Longships, but to the onboard programme itself, is truly amazing.
Viking could easily rest on their laurels; they’re not. Instead, they’re trying to consistently improve the onboard and on-shore experience year-over-year by listening to their guests. It’s working. Viking’s charismatic founder, Torstein Hagen, always likes to say that they are “good.” But after 14 days onboard two separate river cruises with the line, one thing is clear: Viking is done with being just “good”. Instead, they’re shooting for the stars – and they’re likely to get there.
Our full journey: