This post has taken over five months to publish, the reason, honestly, I wasn’t completely sure what to write. The trip involved river cruising, and confirmed something I’d already suspected. Providing a balanced opinion required some careful thought.
Cruising has never really appealed to me, particularly the huge transatlantic liners, carrying thousands of passengers. This cruise type seems oversized, passengers probably remaining anonymous to the crew, and one another. The towns they stop at, possibly becoming swamped, even overwhelmed with mass daytripping. Possibly, this isn’t an entirely accurate view, as many people swear by cruises, cruising every year, so am I missing something?
Viking River Cruises offer cruises on one of the great rivers of Europe, the Danube, stopping off at the Christmas markets of several of the iconic cities, which line the famous banks. This seemed a suitable test bed for a virgin cruiser, so when I received an invitation to join a group of amazing people on this trip, I jumped at it.
A small sailing ship adventure cruise does appeal more, but that wasn’t on offer. Therefore river cruising, taking a slow boat ride along one of Europe’s iconic rivers seemed a sensible compromise.
Viking ships are smaller than cruise liners, the more intimate surroundings make it easier to get to know other passengers. The cabins are comfortable, the crew are friendly, helpful, and the bar staff know how to mix a decent mojito. They also soon get to know each passenger, referring to them by name, and knowing their preferences.
There is entertainment every evening, providing ample excuses to order extra cocktails, it’s hardly wild, but relaxing is key on this type of cruise.
Excursions are laid on in the cities visited, which after starting at Passau, include Salzburg, Vienna, Bratislava, with a grand flourish in Budapest. The passengers are split into manageable groups, with a guide for each, but they are still large numbers of people moving around each city. With several ships moored, often there a number of these groups form each ship, the guides using radio broadcasters on different channels to keep their charges informed, and under control.
The time spent in each city varies, predictably the more popular destinations receive more attention, with longer stops, and added excursions. All of these are of course optional, and extra tours may incur an additional charge.
One trick to getting the most out of the trip is tag along with more experienced cruisers, they already know all the dos, and don’ts. I hung around with two avid cruisers, and often found they opted to avoid the organised tours, and explore at their leisure. This suited me too, fitting more with my style, getting to know a place, although as some stops were relatively short, this was not always possible.
This was probably the main reason I feel this style of travelling is not for me, with limited time to really look around most destinations. Bratislava was especially short, we arrived early morning, and left around midday. Enjoying the included breakfast on the ship, meant time was short, so heading into the city and finding a coffee shop seemed preferable.
It is a particularly easy, and relaxing way to travel however, without the need to drive, swap trains, or wait at stations/airports. Just be back on-board before the ship departs, and enjoy the scenery between destinations. The ship obviously continues to sail during the night, so often passengers go to sleep in one city, and wake up in another. This is the appeal for many, and is easy to understand, sitting back, enjoying the abundant, excellent food, with some wine, and grabbing a good night’s sleep.
The cities involved are impressive, some of the finest in Europe, and they were all lit up with Christmas lights. They also offer some of the best seasonal markets on the continent, with plenty of stalls, usually spread across the city centre. Warm glühwein helps keep out the chilly winter weather, and bratwurst, waffles, or other local specialities tide cruisers over until back on the ship.
I generally enjoyed the experience, it was a different form of adventure. However, it isn’t really the style of travelling which suits me, as having time to explore is essential. Meeting people, discovering the culture, getting lost, actually having enough time to get lost, are key parts to the puzzle.
There are plenty of experienced cruise writers around, they understand cruising. In future I’ll stick to what I appreciate best, and leave cruising to them, or maybe send a substitute in my place.
Unless of course somebody has a spare place on an adventure sailing cruise, possibly on a small clipper in Alaska, the polar regions or Patagonia?