As many of you already know my boyfriend and I were invited on a Viking River Cruise (read our initial post about it including a map of our destinations here) to check it out in terms of romance: engagements, honeymoons, and anniversaries. Today, I’m super pumped to give you what I would call The Ultimate Viking River Cruises Review!
Why ultimate? Well, being the millennial that I am, when we knew we were going on the Danube Waltz itinerary I hopped online and researched every possible thing I could about the Viking River Cruises line. I wanted to know what the cabins looked like, sample menus, thread counts on the sheets… and I only every found one or two online reviews that were more than a paragraph long. So, for you future Viking cruisers, I’ve recorded in detail all that you’d want to know, and if I missed anything please leave your questions in the comments and I’ll be happy to answer as best as I can!
This is basically the most I’ve ever written about anything (and that includes most of my college papers) so I’ve created a clickable index for you + the review is broken into two parts.
BOOKINGS & TRANSFERS
Even though we were guests of Viking River Cruises, we still went through the booking process and it was without a doubt the easiest experience I’ve ever had making travel arrangements (meaning I did nothing, they did it all, that’s what they’ll do for you, and it’s awesome). They researched all the flights, sent different itinerary options for approval and made all the bookings and travel arrangements for us both.
About two months prior to departure two packages arrived in the mail that contained the itineraries and flight information, all bound into an informative booklet along with travel tags for our suitcases and other necessities. Upon arrival at the airport in Budapest we whipped out the special ‘I’m with Viking’ bag tags and put them on our suitcases. Just outside of immigration at the airport Viking River Cruise reps met us + some of our co-cruisers and before long we were on a luxury bus with cold water bottles and on our way to our ship!
The way back after our journey was as easy as that too. I had a moment of panic the night before we left when I realized that our cruise ended in one German city and yet we flew out of another one that was definitely about half an inch away on the map I googled so I emailed our Viking Customized Travel Coordinator (you get the same person the whole way through plus I’d like to give a little shout out to Catherine A. – you’re the best!) and she emailed me back immediately saying that our transfers were all already taken care of – and they sure were!
THE ROOM & SHIP
For our Danube Waltz river cruise we were aboard the Viking Vilhjalm which was one of 6 brand new river cruising ships just launched in 2016 so it was definitely spotless. You can check out the ship specifications here including how many of each room category there are and things like that. We were treated to a veranda stateroom (the number 327 will always have a special place in our hearts now!) which I would call the middle of the upper category if that makes sense…
From the impression I got the room categories on board go like this: there are 4 floors to the boat the bottom of which is under the waterline and the top of which is the deck. The least expensive category of room is on the bottom floor under the waterline and the next category would be right above the waterline (these had verandas) on the 2nd floor. We were on the 3rd floor where all the rooms had verandas but the ones on the other side of the hallway also had a little living room attached as well (I totally peeked when people opened their doors to leave their rooms!).
We were SO excited to have a veranda room because it has two chairs out there, is totally private, and we thought we would be outside all the time taking in the views as we cruised down the Danube. This was not the case. I think we hung out there twice or so and not for very long. Why? There was nothing wrong with the veranda, but when the deck of the ship is so fabulous we found ourselves drawn there instead.
On the top deck there’s an herb garden, a few lawn games, lounge chairs under shade, tables with umbrellas, and a walking track. It’s a beautiful, huge space for whether you’re feeling sociable or seeking privacy. There were two most memorable on-deck moments for us – the first of which was when we left Budapest and everyone was on deck after dinner for the cruise by the epically gorgeous (dubbed the Queen of the Danube) Parliament building all lit up at night (see the moment here). We had Champagne in hand and everyone was toasting the start to an amazing adventure!
The second most memorable on-deck experience was our cruise through the Wachau Valley which is famous for its terraced vineyards and apricot groves. Not only was it gorgeous but we all enjoyed the shots of apricot brandy that some of the staff brought around for us to sample.
As far as other aspects of the Viking River Cruise ship go…
The interior design of it is that minimalist but still cozy Nordic style that reminds you vaguely of the IKEA aesthetic. The color palette was a set of neutrals and blues which was lovely and there were several lounge areas (and a library!) with comfortable sofas, throw pillows, and flowers on the coffee tables. The lobby felt spacious and well-appointed and the large, modern paintings on each floor added bits of color.
But back to the room.
I was worried that a river cruise ship room would feel cramped but it definitely felt spacious! Part of the reason is that there’s an ingenious use of storage in the cabins. We brought two large roller suitcases, Kashmie’s briefcase, my laptop, and my huge carry-on and once we were all unpacked into the drawers and closet the suitcases slipped under the bed and voilà! No signs of bags anywhere. And they even provided a ‘bed protection’ runner which I thought was brilliant. It lays across the foot of the bed so you can hoist your suitcase up there to unpack without dirtying up your sheets.
The bathroom was spacious enough and very modern. The floor was heated, which I loved even though it was still summery in Europe while we were there. Imagine how great that would be during the cooler months!
THE VIKING RIVER CRUISES DINING EXPERIENCE
There are two dining areas, a casual, self-serve type area called the Aquavit Terrace that extends off the lounge/ bar area and onto the deck of the ship and a more formal space on the deck level below that. The Aquavit Terrace is one of the loveliest spaces on the boat as it’s filled with natural light and a delightful place to take in the views.
Upon arrival to the ship they had a mescaline salad bar, pasta salad, cold meats, cheeses, pickled vegetables, the most delightful chilled salmon cutlets, and a dumpling or wonton soup option laid out for us on the Aquavit Terrace. It was the perfect, non-formal way to be welcomed aboard after such a long trip! We enjoyed a Chardonnay and sampled all the food while sitting on the Viking Vilhjalm taking in the sights of Budapest and saying hello to some of our fellow cruisers.
During our Viking River Cruise we ate on the Aquavit Terrace just a few times (you’ll understand why when I share the menus from the more formal dining room in a moment) and the dining options on the Terrace included a less involved-type breakfast with toasts and croissants, fruits, smoked salmon, yogurts, oatmeal, and lighter bites. For lunch there were always fresh and crispy salad options, 1-2 soup choices, and then 3-4 heartier warm choices. One day they served a chili with corn that I just couldn’t stop eating. We also saw burgers (the thick, meaty, juicy kind), a grilled bratwurst station, Monte Cristo sandwiches, and various sides like french fries, pesto pasta salad, and herbed & chilled green beans served in that space.
The main dining room is off the lobby of the ship (on what I would call the second floor) and I’ll be honest, I did not expect the food to be as amazing as it was. I wasn’t expecting caviar or anything ridiculous like that but I did not expect the deliciousness that it was. For example: We bumped into the chef one night and I asked him about the lamb (which was easily my favorite lamb meal of all time) we had enjoyed and he said it had been braised overnight. Overnight! On a ship! Isn’t that fantastic?!
Breakfast, lunch, and dinner were available in the main dining room. Breakfast and lunch always included a stationed buffet in the center of the dining room and then at least two choices for each course that you could also order off of the menu.
Breakfast buffet options included: an omelet station, scrambled eggs, hash browns, smoked salmon with cream cheese and capers, fried capers (which are my new favorite food), herbed mushrooms, pancakes, waffles, oatmeal, cut fruits, yogurt, warm meats, and more.
The food was simply divine and there was a noticeable effort to include local ingredients, delicacies, and traditional dishes. You’ll see a lot of reviewers call dinners aboard Viking River Cruises a ‘set course’ – which it is but I assure you there are enough options to make any diner happy. A typical dinner will have 3 choices for appetizer, main, and dessert, however the entire right side of the menu are items that are always available. I could go on and on about it but I think the meals speak for themselves. I snapped a few pictures of some of the menus so I could transcribe them here for you:
(Lunch) First Course: Shrimp Cocktail and Avocado / Smoked Dust Breast and Orange Salad / Black Bean Soup with Sweet Corn Salsa / Second Course: Rigatoni Gorgonzola with Blue Cheese, Apple, Fennel, Snow Peas, and Baby Corn / Fish & Chips with Malt Vinegar and Tartar Sauce / Monte Cristo Sandwich with Coleslaw and Potato Chips
(Dinner) First Course: Pot-au-Feu – A Hearty Beef Broth with Pasta and Vegetables / Vegetable Spring Roll with Marinated Glass Noodles and Soy Sauce / Baby Shrimp Cocktail / Greek Salad with Feta Cheese, Cucumber, Peppers, Onions, Olives, and Vinaigrette / Second Course: Smothered Onion Steak with Corn Mash and Baby Squash Ratatouille / Grilled Marinated Perch with Couscous, Raisins, and Balsamic Brown Butter / Spinach Feta Dumpling with Sautéed Broad Beans and Olive Espuma
(Lunch) First Course: Pasta & Roasted Vegetable Salad / Stuffed Artichokes / Potato Soup with Braised Leeks and Crispy Bacon / Second Course: Spaghetti Bolognese with Tomatoes, Cauliflower, Red Onions, and Spring Onions / Lobster Macaroni & Cheese with an Iceberg Wedge and Bacon Dressing / Pulled Pork BBQ Sandwich on a Kaiser Roll with Coleslaw and French Fries
(Dinner) First Course: Parma Ham & Assorted Melons with Grapefruit Vinaigrette / Lime Marinated Poached Shrimp with Avocado Tartare, Preserved Lime and Parsley Oil / Tomato, Cucumber Salad & Gorgonzola Mascarpone with Walnut Oil Vinaigrette / Roasted Butternut Squash Soup with Ricotta Ravioli, Crisp Bacon, and Croutons / Second Course: Braised Lamb Shank with Basil Oil with Tomato, Chili, and Carrot Puree (this is the dreamy lamb meal I mentioned earlier) / Seared Halibut with Pommery Mashed Potatoes and a Warm Bacon Mushroom Vinaigrette / Vegetable Quiche & Saffron Sauce with Feta Cheese and Micro Herb Salad
(Always Available): Starters: Cheese Plate (with ‘local to your region’ cheeses) / Caesar Salad / Mains: Poached Norwegian Salmon with Fresh Pickled Cucumber and Boiled Potato / Chicken Breast with BBQ Sauce and Mashed Potatoes / Prime Rib Eye Steak (grilled to order) with Steak Fries, and Herb Chimichurri
(Examples of desserts from both the lunch and dinner menus): Cottage Cheese Dumplings in Sugar Crumble with Stewed Berry Compote / Iced Coffee with Vanilla Ice Cream and Whipped Cream / Linzer Torte / Yogurt Terrine with Fresh Strawberries and Fruit Coulis / Melon Ice Cream with Port-Marinated Melons and Whipped Cream / Warm Apple Hazelnut Crumble with Malted Whiskey Ice Cream
Just like at your wedding, the one thing people are going to remember is whether they were hungry or not and if the food was good. Well, if Viking River Cruises were a wedding they’d be the best ever because the food my friends… the food! So good.
But what’s food without a little wine?! With both lunch and dinner there were two regional wine options, one red and one white, however, you could of course order whatever you pleased as there is a full bar with top shelf options. We never veered from the wines as each was picked not only to showcase the area you’re in, but to pair with the meals served.
At breakfast there was a self-serve mimosa bar that didn’t go unnoticed by us.
As far as how the main dining room looks – it sits a bit above the waterline with floor to ceiling windows affording lovely views. The tables seat 6-8 so you can sit with others if you’d like or there was always a table or two that were empty (people eating on shore or in the Aquavit Terrace) for us to sit alone if we opted for a more romantic evening.
Because these things make a difference: there’s a great attention to detail throughout the whole ship and it showed in the dining area as well. Centerpieces were changed between breakfast, lunch, and dinner (the lunch one was a potted rosemary herb bush!) and the linens are real linen, none of that cheap polyester stuff we all hate.
There’s no room service on board, however it really wasn’t needed. The evening we went to a Mozart & Strauss concert in Vienna and came back late there was a lovely goulash (Hungarian beef stew) awaiting us. On other occasions upon returning to the boat from an excursion one of the crew greeted everyone with a tray of nibbles or refreshing strawberry & lemon drinks + there’s always a self-serve coffee/tea/water station with cookies and pastries available at all hours.
One evening, when we knew we would be back on board late after exploring the nightlife in Linz we arranged to have some of the appetizers from dinner left in our room (spring rolls & glass noodles). They weren’t ‘left’ – upon our return to the ship they were cooked up fresh and delivered piping hot and delicious. It was so kind and so much more than we expected we never asked again because we felt so guilty about all the extra effort that was put into our late night snacking needs!
You’ve probably read that the target market for Viking River Cruises is 50 and over and based on our Danube Waltz river cruise you’d be right. This is not a bad thing for your romantic engagement, honeymoon, or anniversary though – it’s a good thing! Hear me out.
- There’s no competition. You know what I mean. If you go somewhere topical or exotic chances are there’s going to be a bunch of other half-naked couples also vying for all the romantic ‘torch-lit beach dinner’ options. Believe me, you’ll end up sharing your honeymoon with everyone else around the pool. This is not the case on a Viking River Cruise. You can be as involved with the other cruisers as you like or not at all. You can join the shore excursions and city tours or you can run off in each city for your own adventure. You can cuddle up in your cabin (which is remarkably sound-proof, we tested it… with the TV volume y’all!) or mix and mingle in the lounge. You can have dinner onboard or you can have the concierge arrange a dinner on shore. It’s totally up to you two!
- There’s no competition, but in a different way than what I mentioned above. 9 out of 10 times people our age, the first thing we’re asked by each other is ‘what do you do?’ I personally hate this question as my hodgepodge set of projects is hard to explain as a career choice but your co-cruisers aboard a Viking River Cruise just don’t care. They’ve been there, they’ve done that, and they know what’s important in life (good food, good wine, to keep learning, and to keep loving each other). It was actually one of the most refreshing groups of people I have ever been around. No one cared when I rocked out my dork facts about Eastern Europe or wore a sweater covered in camels.
Side note: I’d be interested to see if the crowd is a little younger on the Asian river cruises as opposed to European ones. My guess would be yes!
THE 5 THINGS WE ENJOYED MOST ABOUT OUR VIKING RIVER CRUISE
Before reading these you may want to check out our initial ‘5 things we’re most excited about before embarking on this Viking River Cruise here.
- It really felt like a true vacation. Every whim was taken care of and you could adventure worry free.
- I learned so much more than I thought I would. This was my first trip to this particular part of Europe and the world definitely feels smaller now, in a good way. I notice more now… for instance on the news, they were talking about the EU meetings happening in Bratislava and we were totally there! In fact, while we were there our local tour guide told us about how she’d been dealing with random street closures for the last couple months because Slovakia has the EU presidency at the moment!
- I was definitely excited to meet some of our co-cruisers and I was pleasantly surprised by all of them. It was great to travel with a set of people who are also seasoned travelers and who share common interests. Where else can you have a conversation on a bus ride to Cesky Krumlov about Czechoslovakia’s Velvet Revolution that veers right into a conversation about regional wines and then to the movie you watched last night in your cabin? Only with a group of Viking River Cruisers.
- During our vacation we were really made to feel special. I felt truly welcomed and appreciated as a guest. Whenever you entered the boat after a morning or afternoon excursion everyone told you ‘welcome home!’ and it sure felt like it after a few days. They had everyone’s names learned after day one. It was impressive.
- I felt privileged to be spending time with you especially since this area of Europe was a part of your personal history. Seeing you in that environment, it felt like a gateway to your past and I feel as though I understand the love of my life better. It closed the gap between your lifelong interest in Eastern Europe and me not having experienced it yet. It definitely brought us closer together!
- It really was as romantic as I hoped it would be! We tried to peg what exactly made it so romantic and our conclusion is that it wasn’t candlelit dinners kind of romantic, it was adventure romance. Aka: real romance. You can have a candlelit dinner any day of the week, but can you get lost with your other half in Budapest while trying to find the city’s best poppy seed strudels, end up at a cafe on a random street and on a recommendation from a local you meet there, go onwards to one of the city’s most famous ruin bars? Nope. You definitely can’t do that everyday! That kind of adventure creates a romance that binds two people through memories forever.
- The food! I knew I would enjoy the food onshore but I wasn’t sure about the food on the boat. It was incredible. So incredible that we ended up not eating half as much onshore as I thought we would. We sort of forced down things on shore just to say we did because Viking River Cruises did such a fab job of having locally inspired dishes on the menus.
- Durnstein was a delightful surprise to me. I’d never been there before and it was BY FAR one of the most charming towns I’ve ever seen in my life. We wandered into this graveyard (not romantic, I know, but listen…) each grave was covered in flowers. The loved ones had planted the most beautiful blooms atop each plot and I just thought that was the most enchanting concept; turning something sad into something so thoughtfully lovely.
- I was thrilled to take Kashmie on a real vacation for once. He’s always taking me places and it was lovely to get to treat him to something, and somewhere so different for him too!
- I feel inspired again. I was starting to feel a little lacking in motivation with regards to work and life in general. It’s off-season where we live in the Bahamas… no one is around, it’s hotter than a frying pan, I was wilting. Seeing so many fascinating places in succession was the jolt I needed. I’m motivated again, setting work goals, and excited about all the little projects I have going on once more! Travel does that but Viking made it so that I could just sit back and take it all in, they made it a true vacation.
Be sure to check out (click here) Part 2 of The Ultimate Viking River Cruises Review where I’ll cover: Shore Excursions, Onboard Entertainment, Hospitality, Amenities & Wifi, What to Pack, What to Buy, and What’s Worth It: Save or Splurge!
Partnered Post: Flights, River Cruise, accommodations, meals, some activities, and transportation were all provided by Viking River Cruises. All opinions are my own.