This will be a series of posts - My Viking Story. Because it does warrant that. But, I wanted to write sort of an overview post because along the way, there were some things I knew we did right, and some of them we could have done better. So I was able to collect some tips to share with all of you so you can get the most out of your Viking Cruises experience.
This is not a sponsored post. This vacation and experiences were fully paid by yours truly, and in no part by Viking River Cruises or any third party.
Our Viking Story began in February, when after 2 years of receiving brochures, I thought, well, I’m a bit late in making plans for our annual September travel yet (it is our biggest travel of the year and we normally start planning a year ahead), there’s a 2-for-1 deal going on, and I’m open for someone else planning an entire itinerary for me.
TIP #1: 7 months ahead is actually late. Prices can be as much as 20% cheaper if you book at least a year in advance. But, more importantly, there were literally no more full veranda or French balcony rooms left.
My Vikings representative actually said most of their clients book one to two years ahead. And really, all you need is $500 per person to put down on the day you book and have everything paid in full 6 months prior to departure. So definitely keep an eye out on those good deals for future vacations.
We were more particular about travel dates rather than the destination, and our choice for going on the Romantic Danube cruise from Budapest, Hungary to Nuremberg, Germany was purely due to the sailing date covering both our anniversary and my birthday. The nice thing though is that air was free, airport transfers were free, and adding an extension to Prague was only $750 per person.
With free air, I wasn’t surprised when the flight we got had 2 connections each way, with only about 1 to 2 hours layover despite my request for the least number of connections and ample layover time as we need special assistance for my husband going through large airports. When I booked the cruise, they offered the Viking Air Plus service for $100 so I can fully customize my flight.
TIP #2: You can still purchase the Viking Air Plus service for $100 after they’ve already booked your air tickets.
I had forgotten about the Viking Air Plus until 3 months prior to the trip when they emailed me our flight itinerary. Since I didn’t like the flights, I called Viking. For just $200, I was able to change all of the flights and got an arrival time 7 hours earlier than the original. That’s so much cheaper than a rebooking fee.
TIP #3: Add the 2-day Budapest pre-cruise extension. If you’re not adding the extension, definitely purchase the Viking Air Plus and find a flight that will arrive before 11:30 in the morning.
We added a post-cruise Prague tour, but in hindsight, we should have just also booked the pre-cruise extension in Budapest for $350 more per person. Our flight landed at 2:00PM and with baggage claim and getting all the passengers together to transfer to the boat, we didn’t arrive until 4:00PM. There’s actually a buffet lunch and a walking tour on the first day that’s not listed on the brochures. I thought that we were going to have enough time for me to check out the famed baths of Budapest, which other passengers who got in earlier were able to do. Unfortunately, that was not the case. We only had time for a scenic evening cruise after dinner and a panoramic city tour in Budapest.
TIP # 4: Let go of the FOMO (fear of missing out). Be it for the food or all the events onboard.
Every evening, the Viking Daily newsletter is laid out on your bed, you see the plan for the whole day. Unless it’s an optional tour you didn’t sign up for, there’s something planned one right after another. At the 15 minute Port Talk before dinner, the program director talks about tomorrow’s events, which includes some time for the Chef de Cuisine to talk about the most special dish on the dinner menu, i.e, the oh so glorious chateaubriand (would you have expected to see that on a cruise menu?), plus if there’s something special tomorrow for lunch, like the Hungarian goulash, or a post-excursion treat that he won’t get to talk about, like the Czech goulash.
It’s so easy to feel you have to be there for everything or taste everything, which if you can, good for you! But after I missed a scenic cruise along the Danube bend because I decided that I wanted to order that Hungarian goulash which I then only half enjoyed because I was thinking I’m missing out on a lot for only enjoying the view from the floor to ceiling window instead of being up at the terrace, I thought, this FOMO is ruining it.
So, prioritize. Pick the one you really want to do and in true GTGL fashion, get lost in that moment. Like I said, it can all be done if you operate like clockwork, because the cruise director surely does.
TIP # 5: I did say prioritize, and you do you, but when they say scenic cruise on the Danube Bend in Hungary and the Wachau Valley in Austria, these are what European fairytales are made of, so put this at the top of your list.
So, grab lunch at the terrace and grab blankets and go to the sundeck. No photo can even do the experience justice. Cruising on the stretch of the Danube between Melk and Krems on the Wachau Valley has been one of the most peaceful and inspired moments of my life.
With Viking, most days have the free excursions. Most of these are the typical tours you see in cities with large groups following around a tour guide and you get an hour free to yourself. The group still has to beat some crowds and still gives you a list of things to Google later. This is really the part that I don’t like about tours and cruises in general - I like to take my time, I like to go inside interesting buildings, have time for me and my husband to take a photo together that’s not a selfie.
I must admit, with the price you pay for a Viking Cruise, I did expect the included excursions to be a bit more exclusive and with more privilege. On this cruise, this was only true for the Göttweig Abbey tour, likely because the tour was a specific place, not a city highlights.
TIP # 6: Be fearless. If the ship is not yet sailing, docked close enough for you to take a taxi to, and you didn’t sign up for an optional tour, explore on your own.
There was a whole talk about the leisurely Viennese coffee culture and from the bus, they point to Café Landtmann where Freud spent his afternoons, but that was it. Being coffee lovers, I was determined to experience what they talked about so much. So, we didn’t rejoin our group after our free time, walked around and had time to literally smell the roses, and took a taxi to the said café.
TIP # 7: meet strangers and part as friends.
I can’t say I’m a cruise convert after this trip as I do like my way of exploring. I was a bit sad about the lack of diversity in the clientele - by my estimate 98% Caucasian, retired or nearly retired, mostly from the US. Nonetheless, with significantly fewer passengers than an ocean cruise, we actually made some amazing friends - friends who gave us a bottle of champagne because it was our anniversary, whom I ended up getting comfortable talking politics with, who helped Jesús when getting to the men's room required assistance,
Viking really provided the luxury and comfort I like to have when traveling, and amazing food with traditional dishes from the places you visit. Most importantly, the ease for accessible travel that I wanted to have for Jesús was achieved. For that reason alone, we’re likely going to do this again.
I hope you find my tips useful! And as always, if you’ve got any to share, I’d love to hear them as well! Please check out the next installment of My VIking Story soon!
Bianca is one of the founders of get there | get lost. She is an avid writer and photographer based in Northern California. Her love for history, literature, architecture and food culminate to her passion for traveling and learning about different cultures. She advocates for accessible travel, and continues to explore with her husband and travel partner, Jesús, despite physical limitations. Follow their adventures on Instagram as @gettheregetlost and @coffeeandtherapy.