Growing up my mother instilled a desire to explore. From international trips to road trips from Minnesota to Texas, she taught me to enjoy the open road. To be out of my comfort zone and to see and experience new cultures and people. As time goes on, traveling changes. Cruising became the easiest way to travel and to see more in one trip. We had been on multiple ocean cruises through Princess, but I, Kym, get very motion sick. So we gave up on those kind of vacations. Which included us never considering a river cruise. But then my mom brought up trying a river cruise as multiple friends and family had tried it. They said it was absolutely amazing and none of them felt motion sick at all. It is on a river that doesn’t have waves and is still. I was still very skeptical, but we thought we would give it a shot and the Danube River Cruise is what we chose. We had never been to any of the stops and a lot of them were on our bucket list. It would be a great way to travel with my mother and everything was taken care of! We didn’t have to think of a thing and that was a huge bonus. Kevin and I usually travel with a beginning and end date and nothing in the middle. This would be very different for us.
Why Did We Chose Viking River Cruises?
With river cruising’s popularity growing and the dozens of companies out there, why did we choose Viking? It is as simple as a referral. Our family who had gone on a river cruise highly recommended them and so we trusted their judgement. They said that Viking’s hospitality and service was by far the best they have ever had.
In addition to the referral, Viking River cruises are known for the following:
Food: The food is surprisingly amazing. They have a small set menu, so you know you can get an item each day, but then they also offer local cuisine menu that is a set 3-4 course menu. As you go through different countries, you see the similarities and the uniqueness to each local fare. You can get the drink package, but during lunch and dinner, you can get unlimited wine, beer and non alcoholic drinks.
Simplicity to the ship: There are no shows, casinos, pools, or multiple bars, and no kids under 18 are allowed (another big bonus for us). This is really a cultural and educational vacation. Even without the large theaters, casinos or bars, they still find a way to put on fun things to do. Trivia, live music, putt putt, wine tastings and our favorite, high tea!
Free Excursion at Every Stop: They provide one free excursion at each port and some ports you get two days. Transportation for each of the excursions, which is a city tour, is provided. I usually am not into city tours, where you follow someone with a sign and wear an ear piece. This changed my mind. Although I am not seeking it out just yet. It was actually kind of great because you get a lot of time at each location. In the morning you could do the city tour. Learn about the different spots in the city and then that afternoon you have free time to do what you please. The tour guides are local so they don’t cruise with you. They point out great lunch spots or museums to check out during your free time.
Rooms: All rooms have at least a long window for light. Not just a port hole or no window at all. No dungeons. A row of rooms on the port and starboard side and a hall down the middle. That’s it. Easy access to all rooms and nothing is that far away. We chose a room with a French balcony. It was perfect.
Another huge plus was the size of the ship. They only could hold about 190 passengers. Not thousands, so 190 passengers and 60+ staff members was pleasant. You got to know staff and a lot of the passengers.
Potential Con: Another reason we chose a river cruise was because of the dress code. There are no formal nights but there was confusion about how to dress for dinner. It said business casual. We thought we needed dress pants and button ups or polos. We packed all of this and didn’t need it. People dressed comfortably. Most didn’t have luggage the entire time so there was no requirement. Plus if you didn’t want to dress up then you could sit upstairs in the atrium for your meal. It ended up being comfortable. So the con, ended up being nothing and worked out to make the trip that much better.
Danube River Cruise Itinerary
Another reason we chose Viking was because we liked their itineraries. This was ours:
Budapest, Hungary (overnight)
Vienna, Austria (overnight)
Scenic Sailing Wachau Valley
Post Trip – Prague, Czech Republic
Exploring each city
This ended up being one of my favorite cities on the trip. I didn’t know what to expect, but I loved the feel of the city. From the history, walkability, food, parks and being able to a part of the community that lives there. Viking provided an option of a pre-trip, so we stayed in Budapest 2 days before the river cruise officially started. It is hard to do a quick summary of this amazing city but here are a few of the highlights.
Budapest is broken into two areas, separated by the river, they are each unique. Buda, which is the west side of the city is hilly and more laid back. Pest, is the east side of the city where it’s action packed and very touristy.
Buda – This is the place to come for a quiet getaway. The hilly side of the city provides some amazing views of the area. Both sides of the river have beautiful architecture, so that in itself is something fun to do. As you do that on this side of the city, you will see buildings that still have bullet holes from WW2.
Pest – This is where all the shops, restaurants and museums are located. The roof of the Museum of Ethnography was a favorite stop, along with the the extremely moving memorial of shoes along the Danube. Before men, women and children were executed along the Danube, they were forced to take off their shoes. At the time, shoes were more valuable than bullets. Then onto the Holocaust Tree of Life Memorial. Located at the Dohany Street Synagogue. Remembering one of the worst times in our history. Then lighten the day with a walk through Gozsdu Udvar Street. It is full of shops and restaurants to enjoy. From bars, seafood, fresh past and local fare.
Also known for bath houses, you will need a reservation to make it into their best ones. If you don’t get it make your way to one of their multiple markets with food and merchandise vendors.
Vienna was our next stop and one of the two stops we were most excited about. Everything about this city excited us. Stop no. 1 for us was the Spanish Riding School. Can you guess what the horses are so into on their ledges? Sugar!
Then get excited for the fashion, food, palaces, fountains and the every day life of this fast paced city. One of the most expensive cities in Europe it was fun walking around for two days. Did you know that window sills used to show status in the 1500s. Horses at the bottom, the family of the house and then the servants, or workers at the top. Then visit Hofburg Palace, where the balcony is known for hosting one of Hitler’s last speeches.
You cannot go to Vienna without going to one of the street vendors and getting a Vienna dog. It was delicious!
There were even swans swimming along the river, right by the perfect running path.
Vienna is known for music. Music is life and some of the greats have played, wrote, died and then buried in Vienna. We were able to watch and listen Alma Deutscher. Born in 2005, she was composing by the age of 5, at 7 she completed a short opera and then later wrote a violin concerto at 9. By the age of 10 she wrote her first full-length opera.
Krems was the shortest stop where we tasted wine from Gottweig Abbey and took in the views of the country side. Gottweig Abbey was founded in 1083 and was almost going to be shut down and now its a multi million dollar Abbey. Mostly thanks to their vineyards and apricot orchard. They are also known for having a library with 150,000 books and manuscripts. You can still attend mass here and see some very old skulls.
Locks Along The Danube
You go through multiple locks along the Danube. Mostly at night but there are a few during the day and for being such a slow motion activity, it’s quite fun. You enter the lock, wait for another boat, see the water rise and then you are on your way.
Enjoy the cruising during the day because most days you are at port. It was relaxing cruising through wine country, old towns and countryside. Don’t forget to grab a bottle of wine at one of the previous stops to enjoy.
We fell in love with Passau. What we thought was going to be a small sleepy town, ended up being another favorite. I think I have said this already, but we couldn’t believe how cool the town was. The church in center of town, old cemetery headstones, promenades to have a drink while people watching, run along the river or take a moment to sit and take in the views! You do have to find the door of the building where they used to keep people that caught the plague. They still say now that if you touch it you will get the plague so we all steered clear. Then make your way to the old prison built in 1200, which became the home of the local executioner and now it’s a cabaret theater.
This was one of our favorite spots.
Our last stop on the river cruise was Regensburg. When we booked the river cruise, I had also never heard of this town. I thought, sure, why not. It was new. A place I had never been and wouldn’t go to unless we did this river cruise. At the end, we thought, everyone should know about Regensburg. Again, the history (it never got old), architecture, outside space and being within the local community was awesome. Our boat was docked where the teenagers hung out at night, we ate lunch with locals during the work day, drank in the evening when they got off work and ran along the river with the rest of the crazy runners.
Fun fact: Back in the 1600s it was illegal for people to date people that lived across the bridge. The Danube River was an invisible line for people you could consort with.
Regensburg also claims to have the oldest restaurant. Regensburg Sausage Kitchen first opened its doors in 1146 AD. We walked by at 10:00 am with our tour and it was packed. Standing room only. Along with this history is during your walking tour you can still see the old city wall from the medieval times. It’s not much but still a sight to see. You can also make your way to the many churches. The highlights still being old bones and stained glass windows.
We also walked by city hall. We didn’t think we would stop but we ended up hanging outside for about 20 minutes. You could see about half dozen small groups. Some in costume, some casual and some in couture. Our guide said that it is customary to get married at city hall with your closest family and friends. The groups had no more than 15 people. Then within a year you have a party where everyone can attend. We loved this since that is close to what we did.
We added Prague as a post excursion to the river cruise. Prague has been very high on our bucket list of cities to explore. It definitely felt like the most touristy city. Which makes sense since it is the 5th most visited European city. Known as the Paris of the East you could explore all hours of the day/night.
This is where we got to taste most of the food. To local goulash, their famous tunnel cakes, Korean BBQ and one the best prefixed menus to date at Fields (a Michelin Starred Restaurant). I almost forgot pizza. Late night pizza is always the best!
Some of the highlights of the trip were another abbey with wine and beer with views of the city, the many squares, the Astronomical Clock, the famous St. Charles bridge, the many parks and the evening walks through town. I highly suggest finding a night tour that will take you around at night to see all the lights and the city from above. On the weekends you can find dancining in the park.
We could see a pattern throughout the trip of beer being quite cheap and readily available. We learned that the Czech Republic drinks the most beer per capita in the world and it has held that no. 1 spot for almost 30 years! Kevin did not mind fitting in with the locals.
Overall Opinion of River Cruises
I absolutely LOVE river cruises and I will continue to do them again and again. We actually booked another one in Egypt and France!
Again, I would only recommend this to someone looking for a cultural vacation. A low key, relaxing vacation but one that still has a lot to see and do.
My experience with motion sickness. For someone who gets severe motion sickness, I felt it once and that was in the dining room. So we ate upstairs in the atrium with a view of the river and it was quieter and not a single moment of dizziness. During the day you can sit outside while cruising down the river. At night, they only set the inside but you are surrounded by windows. I was very surprised that I didn’t get motion sickness, even in the locks. To compare my level of motion sickness, I get motion sickness on large cruises, any boats, cars, hammocks, and rocking chairs. It has affected me for decades. I haven’t been able to go on any amusement park rides and any water activity is hard for me. This has changed my opinion of river cruises.
Have you tried a river cruise? If you haven’t and have questions, let me know and I will answer them as best I can!
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6 thoughts on “Danube River Cruise, Our First River Cruise Experience”
The whole experience looks fabulous and a great way to get a taste of several destinations. I did read last year about dropping water levels making river cruising difficult, I guess they have a Plan B for that?
River cruise boats can sail at pretty low water as they are not very deep. I am not sure what Plan B is but when we cruised they said there was very low chance of any real catastrophe to human life since the rivers are so shallow. You could see the bottom sometimes.
Did you have time to meet and talk with locals in various towns?
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Yes! All the tour guides were local as well. Everyone goes out for a drink in the afternoon and you can chat and hang out.
this is a wonderful blog! i noticed a lot of short sleeves in your photos. this is from last week, correct? we are going next month and i wondered about the temperature.
also, did you have to transfer to any buses or other boats due to low water levels? or was it smooth cruisin’ all the way?
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Hello! Thank you for the kind words. My apologies, but this is from June. It was actually quite hot in some places, so April/May might have some rain but nice temps. No transfers and we even cruised in 3ft. They are meant to be top water, not bottom like cruise ships. Enjoy! Let me know how it goes!