Review: Viking Legend
Cruise - River Cruise
Exploring the Danube
91 people found this review helpful
For any potential traveller who finds the thought of an ocean cruise a little impersonal or squeamish on the stomach, the idea of a few days on one of Europe's greatest rivers, may have greater appeal. That certainly crossed our minds when we booked with Viking River Cruises for a week's tour along the majestic River Danube, Europe's second longest river. Often called the most European of rivers, the Danube passes through no less than ten different countries on its 1,775 mile journey between The Black Forest and the Black Sea. In a week, one can only experience a fraction of that amazing journey, but one of the most popular introductory routes starts in Passau (Germany), on through Melk, Viennna and Bratislava and ending in beautiful Budapest. A great advantage of river cruising is that the heart of many of these fine capital cities were built alongside the Danube itself, enabling the present day explorer to step ashore close to the very centre of city and cultural life. Unlike, for example the Rhine, the Danube carries comparatively little commercial traffic, and over a week, you are more likely to see pleasure boats than freight barges.
It's not the cheapest holiday you are likely to attempt, but companies like Viking organise everything for you, including flights to and from the UK, all land transfers and most excursions ashore, which are led by enthusiastic and knowledgeable guides. Add to that, all meals on board, the services of a Cruise Director who is on constant call and an imaginative programme of on-board events, then one has the makings of a memorable holiday.
About a fortnight before this particular cruise on board the Viking Legend was scheduled to leave, central Europe was devestated by prolonged heavy rain and floods which caused many rivers, not least the Danube, to hugely overflow its banks along much of its length, bringing hardship to many towns and rural communities in particular. Viking worked hard to get the cruise underway and to follow the promised itinerary. A few deviations were inevitable, but it gave travellers a humbling insight into how towns along the Danube have always suffered from such flooding and yet how they show the resolve and determination to recover and get on with everyday life. Typical of this resilience was the starting point of Passau, 'The City on Three Rivers' which as its name suggests, is particularly vulnerable, surrounded as it is by the confluence of three great rivers. Passau suffered its worst flooding for 500 years in June 2013 and to walk in the lower part of the town where the river had reached quite astonishing heights, brought home how the force of Nature can be totally irresistable. Although no-one died on this occasion, some inhabitants had lost almost everything. Despite this, we detected here, and along many other sections of the Danube, the determination of the people to rebuild their homes and for settlements to recover in time. One of the Danube's most significant locks near Vienna was left badly damaged, which entailed us switching ships to proceed downstream, but this was insignificant compared to the inconvenience of the many residents affected by these floods.
An advantage of river cruising is that the average capacity of these modern boats can be a mere 190 passengers, togther with about 40 crew. This ensures that service is very personal, and with 'open seating' for meals, you can get to know many of your fellow passengers quite well over a week's cruising. Although lacking the amenities of the huge ocean going cruise ships, there is a refreshing sense of space and orderliness aboard, with the various state rooms lacking nothing in storage,comfort and sheer indulgence. The Company provide handbooks which describe every kilometre of the journey and a regular newsheet describing the proposed itinerary for every day. With so many 'steps ashore' it is important that local guides know their areas well and this is always enhanced by every passenger having a tuned in receiver so that even in busy market places, every word of the guide can be heard even though they can be up to 20 metres away.
A highlight of Passau was a marvellous organ recital held in the magnificent 17thC St Stephen's Cathedral, one of several cathedrals we visited which have withstood both flooding and the ravages of time. Also visited was the famous Melk Abbey, a 900 year-old Benedictine monastery with its spectacular frescoes and an almost untouched library of medieval manuscripts.
The highlight for many was the time spent in Vienna, surely one of Europe's most elegant and romantic cities. The remarkable Ringstrasse is lined with imposing residences and palaces. Some of the passengers were able to see the magnificent Hofburg Palace and the beautiful and widely visited State Opera House. The city centre is quiet enough to support the traditional horse-drawn Flaker, a really cool ride for those wanting to experience true grandeur. To make up for a slight deviation in our itinerary, the Company treated all their guests to a Strauss and Mozart evening concert performed by an excellent Viennese orchestra in yet another elegant venue. A short coach ride also took the party to the famous Viennese Woods with great views over the city.
Our final berth saw the party moor at the dockside in Budapest, Hungary, aptly named the 'Queen of the Danube.' The Captain timed his approach very well so that passengers could gather on deck on a balmy summer's evening and see the City illuminated at night. The city lights link all the buildings in a kind of fairy tale splendour. Strings of lights run over seven bridges and connect the two sides of the River. Until 1873, the settlements of Buda and Pest were separate towns connected by the odd ferry. Now traffic flows continuously between the two areas of the capital, particularly using the Chain Bridge, built by Scottish engineers. Buses took the party around the main city sights and there was still plenty of time the next day to explore this famous City on your own and grasp something of its history and present day culture.
It was with no lack of sadness that passengers said farewell to the Captain, crew and Cruise Director aboard the Viking Legend. A few days of cruising and exploration had given one a real taste of some of the secrets that the Danube holds, with the determination that many of us would return to the area sometime in the future and explore a little more for ourselves.
91 people found this review helpful
This review is solely based on the opinion of a Silver Travel Advisor member and not of Silver Travel Advisor Ltd.
Silver Travel Advisor Recommended Partner: Viking River Cruises