Honest Review of the Grand European Viking Cruise: 15 Days from Budapest to Amsterdam

Germany river cruise on Rhine

Viking is a brand we have heard over here in the states as a luxury river and ocean cruise line that caters to adults as the minimum age on board is 18 years old. This adult only business appealed to us as empty nesters and having experienced crowded pool areas filled with happy kids, was something I really looked forward to. Many cruises are available on European rivers, but this 15 Day Grand European Viking Tour seemed to have everything we wanted.

The river cruise ships are smaller and accommodate approximately 180 guests. The food is very good and service was exceptional. The waitstaff know your name within a day or so and the cabins are cleaned twice a day. I definitely felt spoiled on this trip.

The small ship has pros and cons. Four of the days on our cruise, the top level called the sun deck was closed. The captain and crew warned us if the river was too low it could scrape the bottom and we would need to switch ships mid-cruise. Another scenario could be the water is too high and we can not get under the low bridges.

For those several days where the bridges were low, no one was allowed on the sundeck. The ship does not have a gym or pool. The sun deck has a small walking trail, putting greens, shuffleboard and chairs for lounging which is especially nice if your room does not have its’s own private balcony. The only other places to spend time on the ship outside of the state rooms are the lounge or a few chairs in the library and self-serve coffee station.

Tipping is taken from your account after you begin your trip at $20.00 per day per person. At the end of the trip, many of the guests gave an additional envelope to certain staff that made a positive impact on their vacation. One thing I was not prepared for was daily tipping the tour guides on each shore excursion. It is good to have small amounts of Euros handy to tip guides, who sometimes are volunteers, depending on the length and satisfaction of the tour.

Before the trip, Viking sends you information about the different shore excursions. Each day one guided tour is included but you do have the option to sign up for additional excursions for an additional cost.

Day -1 – Budapest

We arrived to the ship around 3:00 pm via bus from a 3 day extension in Prague. We were welcomed and given keys to our third floor balcony room where we spent the next hour unpacking. Plenty of dresser and night table storage as well a spacious closet and large space under the beds to store suitcases.

We explored the nearby streets and the big market which was closing just as we arrived at five o’clock. Back on the ship we enjoyed our first diner with appetizers, bread and butter, a main course and dessert. Beer, wine and non-alcoholic beverages are included with meals. The silver spirits package is available for unlimited wine and cocktails at an additional cost.

After dinner we chose to stay in and visit the Lounge for an after dinner drink and music from Robert the piano player. Some people took the Budapest by Night additional excursion.

Day – 2 – Budapest

We enjoyed a great breakfast with options for omelets, eggs benedict, pancakes and French toast, assorted fruits, pastries and more on a buffet. We took the four hour included Panoramic Budapest bus tour first through the modern flat side of the city Pest and then across the Danube River to the hilly side called Buda.

The bus stopped at the top of the Castle District so we could walk through Matthias Church and the Fisherman’s Bastion. We returned to the ship for lunch and then Pete and I took the excursion to Budapest Thermal Baths.

Viking provided us with two bags filled with slippers, a towel and a white terry cloth robe. We were assigned a special cabin to lock our belongings in and then given a few hours to enjoy the varying temperature pools and hot tubs in and outside the neo-baroque palace. The thermal baths claim to have all sorts of therapeutic restorative powers. We honestly found the pool to be very crowded and the water not too hot but I enjoyed seeing the place.

At 5:30 pm it was all aboard as the Viking Modi (our ship) departed North toward Vienna. We joined guests for the port talk before dinner from our program director to find out about the excursions available in Vienna. Then dinner, some time on the sun deck for scenic sunset cruising along the river and then music in the lounge before heading to our state room to watch a movie on our high definition TV.

Day 3 – Vienna – Austria

Today was one of the longest days at sea since we did not arrive in Vienna until 7:00 pm. The scenic river ride, meals and presentation on coffee and the coffee houses of Vienna kept us entertained.

Dinner was earlier this evening and many of the passengers took the optional excursion to a Mozart & Strauss concert in Vienna in the evening. We opted to explore on our own. We walked to the nearby subway station and took a train to St. Stephens Cathedral. The organ music delighted us as we stood in awe of the immense arches and impressive chapels and artwork. On our way to the souvenir shop across the street it started to rain thus ending our evening adventure. We easily found our way back to the ship and called it a night.

Day 4 – Vienna – Austria

A full day in Austria started at 9:00 am with the three and a half hour included Panoramic Vienna tour. A bus drove us into the city where our guide then led us past the Ringstrasse boulevard to the elegant public buildings and museums, the Hofburg Palace and to St. Stephens Cathedral where we were given to the option to spend the afternoon on our own and return to the ship by subway, or meet back for the bus ride to the ship in one hour. We came back on the bus to have lunch and then get ready for our optional afternoon excursion.

At 2:15 pm we boarded a bus to the “Behind the Scenes at the Lipizzaner Stallions” located at the world-famous Spanish Riding School near the Hofburg Palace. This tour is a thrill for anyone who loves horses. Our guide took us past the outdoor training ring, the tack room, a courtyard, into the opulent baroque indoor hall where the horses perform and finally into the stables.

We were asked not to touch the horses and there was not a show although some people were surprised about that. We ended the tour by having a coffee and cake in a nearby coffee shop attached to one of the museums before boarding the bus back to the boat.

That evening some people took an additional excursion out for dinner while those of us who stayed in discovered that the attentive waitstaff was more than willing to bring over additional appetizers or main courses if we could not make a decision. The food was always very good. At 11:30 pm everyone was back on board and the ship left for our next stop.

Day 5 – Melk Abbey- Austria

Our morning involved a scenic sailing with commentary from our program director. At 12:30 we arrived after lunch and boarded buses to Melk Abbey, the only excursion this day. We broke into small groups and a guide walked us through rooms filled with artifacts and medieval manuscripts.

The view from the terrace of the valley and the Danube river is breathtaking and we enjoyed wandering through the colorful church and wooded gardens before leaving the Abbey and joining the bus in a new location up the river. This evening our director provided us with a German language lesson followed by music from the onboard musician.

Day 6 – Passau – Germany

After breakfast we arrived in Passau at 9:00 am for a two hour walking tour around the city surrounded by three rivers. Our local guide regaled us with stories of the horrific floods and how the townspeople all came together for the clean up. We walked past the town hall, St. Stephen’s Cathedral and looked up at the impressive Bishop’s Residenz on the hill. We had some time for shopping and exploring but since we did not book an additional excursion, needed to be back on the ship at 2:30 pm.

One of the excursions that appealed to me was an all day visit to Salzburg, Austria. This would cost about $500 for both of us and entail a two hour each way bus ride, tour of the city and seeing some of the “Sound of Music” locations. When I backpacked in Europe during one summer of college, I did that Sound of Music tour in Salzburg so decided to skip it this time, otherwise I would have gone.

Day 7 – Regensburg – Germany (Munich)

Since we are scheduled to see many small river towns on this cruise, I did opt for a big day trip to Munich. We left at 8:30 am and were gone for 9 hours. The two hour bus ride included a stop at the BMW show room for a rest stop with free toilets – quite the big deal. Our guide gave us a tour around the streets of Munich near the New Town Hall and the famous Glockenspiel (clock).

We dined for lunch in the Ratskeller but only had a choice of two meals. I would rather have found a better place to eat like the famous Hofbrau house that we did walk through on our tour – if I only knew then… For the amount of money we spent on this excursion, the meal should have been better. After lunch, we had free time, but since it was Sunday the stores were all closed. This is a law in Germany. Turns out it was a huge Pride festival with bands and DJs on every street, lots of people in rainbow colored outfits and just a big old party. Fun to witness as well.

Day 8 – Nuremberg – Germany

Sometime during the night our ship moved to the city of Nuremberg. The captain is quite busy getting our boat into these narrow locks (68 total on our trip), sometimes fitting in with another ship to the side of us. The water level would raise inside the lock which I assumed was because we were going upstream. One of these days mid-trip, our captain announced all future locks would now be bringing us lower to the river since we crossed the “continental divide”. It was also around this time of the trip that the staff began to worry that the Viking Modi (our ship) may not make it due to water levels in the river. We would then need to pack and be bussed up river to a different ship with new staff, that would be annoying to say the least.

In the meantime we gathered our water bottles, and audio receivers with earpieces from the staterooms and joined the 9:00 am three hour tour of Nuremberg. The bus picked us up and took us past Zepplin Field, the former Nazi Rally Grounds, as well as the Congress hall built to copy the Roman Colosseum and the Palace of Justice where the Nazi war trials took place.

Off the bus, our guide took us to the castle and Old Town and then we walked into the square where we could shop for Gingerbread and more before the bus came to pick us up again. Additional tours were popular for history lovers to delve more into history and World War ll.

Day 9 – Bamberg – Germany

Our included tour of the day was a walking tour in this medieval picturesque city famous for their smokey flavored beer. We look the option of the leisure tour due to some leg soreness from walking downhill on cobblestones the day before. This was a nice option and we saw the quaintness of this town with the river and mill. We had about one hour to shop or try their famous beer so we did a little of both before heading back to the bus and our ship.

Day 10 – Wurzburg – Germany

After a lovely breakfast on the ship we joined our same group of folks to visit the former residence of Wurzburg, the prince-bishop, and take a walking tour of the Old Town. Apparently, this beautiful building had been bombed during World War ll but underwent extensive reconstruction and shows incredibly ornate rooms, a stunning 6400 foot fresco on the ceiling and English-style gardens. We left the group and walked into the town to see the beautiful church, do some shopping and have a glass of wine on the bridge as recommended since this part of Germany boasts it’s wine, not it’s beer.

Day 11 – Wertheim – Germany

Arriving at 9:00 am we once again took the included excursion for a walking tour of the town. Some folks opted to ride bicycles along the river for 16 miles to our next stop which was great for people craving some rigorous exercise. Our volunteer guide showed us around a small village telling stories and once again showing us flood line marks, the danger of living near a river. We enjoyed some time to explore the shops and even a castle ruin on the hilltop before our 1:00 pm departure.

By this time on our cruise, we started to notice quite a few people coughing, wearing masks and bringing meals back to the staterooms. We started feel a bit rundown and complained of sore throats as well. With no doctor on board, we stopped at a local apothecary to get some medicine to alleviate the symptoms. We also opted to skip touring the next day.

Day 12 – Koblenz – Marksburg Castle

Our ship arrived in Koblenz at 2:30 for a tour of the inside of Marksburg Castle. After resting up, we rallied for dinner and a delightful cake with the waitstaff singing “Let me call you sweetheart” at our table for our 4 year anniversary thanks to the request of our new friends. The staff on Viking and the people you meet along the way really make this trip so good.

Day 13 – Cologne – Germany

We arrived in Cologne at 9:00 am for our morning walking tour. Viking provided us with umbrellas as it was our first really rainy day for a tour. The bus drove us into town where our guide walked us down the historic streets lined with Roman walls and all sorts of medieval history.

Our guide led us to the grand Cologne Cathedral which started being built in 1248 and was continued in stages over the next 600 years. Every cathedral has to have relics, or human remains of saints. It was interesting to see the golden crate claiming to hold relics of the three wise men who visited Jesus when he was born.

Feeling soggy, we took the bus back to our ship for lunch. With a change of clothes we got ready for an added excursion “Cologne’s Beer culture and dinner”. In Cologne, people drink only Kolsh brand beer from small 7-ounce glasses in an effort to keep it cold.

Our entertaining guide Carol took us to where the locals go. It was Saturday night and everyone was out since the rain had stopped. We had a yummy dinner in a local brauhaus and stopped at a few rowdy and crowded establishments before returning to our ship. This was a fun excursion to blend in with the locals, sort of.

Day 14 – Kinderdijk – Netherlands

At 2:00 we arrived in Kinderdijk ( pronounced kinder- dike) to explore the windmills currently being used to manage the water because much of the Netherlands’ land is below sea level. Families rent out windmills to live in and we were invited to visit one that is set up as it would have been, back in the day. Lots of explanations about the technical workings of a windmill enlightened us as we eagerly headed to the gift shop and then back to our ship for the final evening on our ship together.

Day 15 – Amsterdam – Netherlands

At 8:00 am we needed to have our bags packed and outside our staterooms so they could get the rooms ready for the new guests arriving that afternoon. We enjoyed a last breakfast and said a fond goodbye to the staff and our new friends. Viking arranged smooth departures to airports, hotels and the three day extension many chose to take. Since we had done the 3-day-extension to Prague, I only booked one night in Amsterdam. I chose an interesting luxury hotel called The Toren in the center of the city, just around the block from Anne Frank’s house.

Fortunately they let us check in upon arrival at 11:00 am so we dropped off our bags and headed over to Anne Frank’s house. Having read her diary as a kid and actually visited her house on my backpacking trip in in college, I didn’t get tickets to see the inside of the house again. But we had just watched the show “A Small Light” on Hulu and when I saw the house they hid in for two years, all I could imagine was the Nazi truck that took them away just a few months before the war ended.

We enjoyed our final day in Europe walking around the beautiful canal streets and dodging the 600,000 bicyclists with a delicious dinner near our hotel.

Our flight home was early but he driver picked us up at as scheduled and took us the 30 minute drive to the airport for our flight home. We loved our trip and are already considering where to go next.

Final 3 things to remember.

  1. Small amounts of money for tour tipping.
  2. On board laundry is expensive, bring enough clothes or something easy to wash in the sink.
  3. Food is plentiful but exercise not so much, so pace yourself.

Hope this helps you plan for your next big adventure. Let me know where you are going next.

DISCLOSURE: I did not receive a free trip or any benefits from Viking – this is my own blog and my review of the Grand European Tour Viking cruise. As an Amazon associate I earn from qualifying purchases.


12 Responses

  1. We love going on cruises as well, but have yet to try a river cruise. Have you tried both? Which one do you prefer? Thank you for including a photo of the room… Is there another of the restroom? 🙂

    1. I love cruising too. It’s so nice to just unpack once. The river cruise ship is smaller and everything more low key but that is nice too. The bathroom is pretty spacious and has a heated floor but I don’t have any photos. I would do either one again. Depends on the destinations. Thanks so much for reading and commenting.

    1. Thanks for visiting my blog and commenting. River cruises are a lot different from ocean cruises but both fun in different ways. We really enjoyed our trip.

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Runaway Widow
Join me, Kristin, on my journey to adjust to the sudden death of my husband and learn to live as a young, middle-aged, remarried widow.

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