My first river cruise was a 15 day Grand European Tour with Viking River Cruises from Budapest to Amsterdam on the Danube, Main-Danube Canal and the Rhine rivers.
We arrived in Budapest a day ahead and stayed at the InterContinental Budapest Hotel which was fantastic. We had a river view room, the view is amazing. Our room was spacious and well appointed and included a full buffet breakfast. The location was perfect as it was across the street from the Viking dock and also convenient to the main shopping area, the Vaci Utra.
Embarkation day… SO EASY! We walked up to the reception desk, they looked up our name, gave us our room key, instructions on leaving the ship and that a buffet lunch was available in the lounge. All done in 15 minutes and off exploring again until dinner at 7:00pm or whenever we wanted to return as the ship remained docked for the night.
The ship’s accommodations were very good, a good sized stateroom with an ample sized bathroom. This is something to be aware of when river cruising as some are quite small. On this ship, the staterooms on the upper 2 decks have large windows that open. If you have travelled on the large ocean ships and prefer a slower more relaxing pace, then river cruising is the way to go. Meals are at set times with open seating. With only 140 passengers you can meet someone new each time you dine and get to know most of your fellow travelers.
After a day of sightseeing around Budapest we started sailing up the river, from here on keep your camera ready, you never know what is around the next bend.
We docked in Bratislava in the afternoon; a brief guided walking tour oriented us for strolling around town on our own. A walk to the castle was worth the view and left time to visit a wonderful little café in the main square. The ship left at midnight leaving time for more exploring after dinner.
We docked early in Vienna and after breakfast boarded buses for our half day city tour. After our visit to St. Stephan’s Cathedral, the Ringstrasse and the Hofburg Palace there was time to sample the coffee and pastries that make Vienna so special. Later it was easy to take the metro back into the city to explore more of the streets and sights of Vienna on our own as the ship didn’t leave until 4am.
The next 3 days were full of historical sites dating back to the 11th century. Melk has an Abbey high above the Danube. After the tour we walked back through the town and understood why this is a World Heritage site. The city of Passau is at the confluence of 3 rivers, the Danube, Ilz and Inn Rivers. At St. Stephan’s Cathedral we were treated to an organ concert on one of the largest church organs in the world. Regensburg is one of the best preserved medieval cities in Germany. After the walking tour and some exploring on our own we went over the Old Stone Bridge to a beer garden to sample some of Germany’s best beers.
We sailed along the Danube to Nuremberg where we took the extra excursion that tours the WW2 museum and sites that were part of the Nazi movement, very interesting! After the tour we were free to explore the main square before the bus returned to the ship. Exploring directly off the ship was not an option here.
We now entered the Main-Danube Canal, first started in 793 AD and completed in 1992, it is 106 miles long. The canal has 16 locks; the highest at 80’ high was quite impressive. It was Bamberg after lunch, with a city tour of this UNESCO Heritage site. After the tour, the guys stopped for one of the famous smoky beers while the ladies shopped. Keep an open mind when trying this beer.
In Wurzburg, the highlight was the opulence of the Bishop’s Residence with the largest ceiling fresco in the world. No photos are allowed inside, be sure to buy postcards in the gift shop as we discovered that you will not find any in town. The view from the castle was well worth the climb, after which we stopped at Fontana’s for an amazing ice cream creation before returning to the ship for lunch and an afternoon of cruising.
Wertheim is truly a medieval town. We particularly enjoyed exploring the castle ruins although it was a more difficult climb than most.
Cruising along the Middle Rhine, a UNESCO Heritage Site, was relaxing as we sailed by vineyards, small towns and numerous castles lining the river. At Braubach we were impressed with our tour of one of the only fully intact castles, Marksburg Castle.
Koblenz, at the junction of the Rhine and Moselle Rivers, has many small streets and courtyards to explore. We enjoyed staying out late as the ship left for Cologne after midnight.
The main site in Cologne was the massive Gothic Cathedral that was started in 1248 and finished in 1880. Exploring the streets, we discouvered an open excavation site where old Roman buildings are being excavated. Leaving Cologne late at night, the amazing view of the Cathedral will not be forgotten.
We cruised through Holland’s countryside to Kinderdijk, a UNESCO site of many windmills. We learned of the importance of windmills in the forming of this country. We spent a leisurely afternoon here before heading to Amsterdam, the end of our journey. We added two nights here and I would highly recommend it.