Viking’s Danube Waltz (1) Budapest

Viking’s Danube Waltz (1) Budapest

If your idea of a cruise is float­ing around the sea with thou­sands of peo­ple and 24/7 enter­tain­ment, food and drink, a Viking Riv­er Cruise is not for you. Which is exact­ly why we took one, with two con­ge­nial friends and 180 fel­low pas­sen­gers, from May 31 to June 7 aboard Viking Leg­end, start­ing in Budapest, with three days’ option­al side trip to Prague, stay­ing at the Hilton. We came away high­ly sat­is­fied and impressed with the crew and orga­niz­ers, even though orga­nized leisure is not our thing. We like to get out into a coun­try and nib­ble the grass, as Churchill said, going where whim and the road take us.

Viking Legend
Viking Leg­end

Viking’s “Danube Waltz” from Budapest to Pas­sau (or the oth­er way depend­ing on dates; options extend the voy­age all the way to Ams­ter­dam) is a delight­ful, com­pre­hen­sive mean­der along the famous riv­er. Since the ship is your hotel, there’s no repack­ing. Since she’s large­ly emp­ty morn­ings and after­noons, there’s a side ben­e­fit you maybe didn’t think about: the crew gets time to rest or reor­ga­nize, ready to take on us pas­sen­gers for lunch (vir­tu­al­ly every day), din­ner, or clos­ing the bar at 2am. We praised the affa­ble guides, orga­niz­ers and espe­cial­ly the wait staff; they can­not do more for you, and enjoy doing it. More about this later.

Budapest: Just your ordinary apartment.
Budapest: Just your ordi­nary in-town flat.

Viking’s ads are a bit mis­lead­ing, at least for this par­tic­u­lar trip. You’re rarely an on-board observ­er of scenic towns; the ship moves main­ly at night. Wake up in the wee hours and you’ll like­ly see a wood­ed shore­line across the rush­ing water (there’s a strong cur­rent and up-riv­er the ship makes 5-6 knots) or the side of a lock (most of the 28 locks are con­ve­nient­ly tra­versed at night). The Danube is not always scenic; it’s a com­mer­cial riv­er with its share of traf­fic. It’s also not blue—until  you get down to Roma­nia, where there are no locks. Don’t expect to see many grand vis­tas aboard ship, she’s not pri­mar­i­ly a view­ing device.

Suzanne and Budapest Palace
Suzanne S. and Budapest Palace.

Two excep­tions to the short­age of ship­board observ­ing were a day cruise with stops at the Aus­tri­an towns of Durn­stein and Melk, of which more lat­er (see ship pho­to) and an evening cruise off Budapest on our first night, which was magical.

Hungary’s cap­i­tal has expe­ri­enced a rebirth. Its fine Haps­burg archi­tec­ture, hard­ly any­where more beau­ti­ful, is sand­blast­ed clean and illu­mi­nat­ed. The old Palace and the Par­lia­ment build­ing are stun­ning. This made for a sat­is­fy­ing first night aboard. There was a repeat on June 1st, when we enjoyed cig­ars on deck (well aft of every­body else!) while the bril­liant city reced­ed astern.

The ship usu­al­ly docks in ear­ly morn­ing and you take coach and walk­ing tours, the morn­ing ones usu­al­ly includ­ed, the after­noon ones option­al. There’s a lot of walk­ing, and stops tend not to be bucol­ic. It’s main­ly city after intrigu­ing city: Budapest, Bratisla­va, Vien­na, Linz (side trip to Salzburg) and the delight­ful Ger­man town of Pas­sau. If you’ve not been there, it’s a great way to see places you ought to vis­it, and to wit­ness how far Hun­gary, Slo­va­kia and the Czech Repub­lic have come in a quar­ter cen­tu­ry since the fall of com­mu­nism. By and large, you’d think you were in any west­ern Euro­pean country.

Hunsmoke, sort of.
Hun­smoke, sort of.

June 1st in Budapest began with a com­bi­na­tion coach and walk­ing tour of the city, with firstrate guides, whose com­men­tary is piped to indi­vid­ual ear­pieces, so there’s no strain­ing to hear. The city sights can eas­i­ly be Googled so I’ll skip that in favor of what’s unique to Viking. Among these are the option­al after­noon tours, includ­ing a trip to the coun­try­side to see Hun­gar­i­an horse­men, and one adept horse­woman, at Lazar Eques­tri­an Park—some­thing very dif­fer­ent from the city sights. You’re greet­ed with food and drink (“how bad can that be?” says one vis­i­tor) and fin­ish up with a horse­drawn car­riage ride. (There are sev­er­al option­al tours; I lim­it com­ments to the ones we experienced.)

Next: Bratisla­va, Slovakia

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